Self care, day 2 & 3.

I’m still on the train, one way or another, but distraction comes easier than relaxation, it seems.

Yesterday’s self care involved a sojourn by Lake Nokomis, a place I visit not nearly as often as I might, considering its proximity.  I biked there from an unexpectedly lonely brunch, and found a perfect spot – half sun, half shade, tree to lean against.  Or so I thought.  A body board yoga class began not too long after I settled  in, and rather than finding a new space (and having to start my half hour over, so I told myself) I decided to try to relax through it, despite wanting to do the poses the instructor half shouted so as to reach her floating students.  So I sat, and left for work half an hour later somewhat more relaxed, but not as much as I’d have liked.

Today I drew.  As in, coloring without a coloring book.


It was the first time in weeks for sure, perhaps even months, that I brought out my sketchbook without trying to accomplish anything particular.  More of this needs to happen, this non-guided, easy handed Crayola time, as self care and then some.


Two Challenges

I’m still in the midst of my year of reading books by non-straight white men, but in response to recent life changes want to add a couple more challenges to my plate.

First, an exercise in financial discipline.  I’m not buying anything for a week (today is Day 1) other than groceries this Friday, because it feels like money has been falling out of my pockets and account as of late.  It’s not for lack of disposable income (which, come to think of it, is a very strange phrase…are we insinuating that purchases other than basic needs are inherently garbage?) but between Craft Beer Week, Art-a-Whirl, and my general penchant for the multitudes of amazing restaurants in the Twin Cities, my weekly spending has risen substantially.  So- no cookies, coffeeshops, restaurants or thrift stores this week.

The second challenge: figuring out what to do with my non-working hours.  Due to the summer return of a couple coworkers, I now pretty much work three days a week, with four off.  Wonderful, right?  Only if I can actually DO something meaningful with that time.

  • Fridays and Saturdays will still be my weekend, for shows and friends and fun, and over the summer almost all of my weekends are committed to trips of various sorts.
  • Tuesdays are generally my get-stuff-done-around-the-house day while Benjamin is at work.  They also used to be for journalling/letter writing, a practice that went by the wayside in the midst of wedding planning but deserves revival.
  • Sundays are the new free day, a day of promise, a day I want to claim as something before too many submit to lethargy or menial chores.  Possibilities: herbal medicine collection/creation, spiritual reflection time and/or meditation, more focused writing time, long walks.  What else might one do with newly freed up Sundays?

Knowing Who is Here ::a public brainstorm::

I’d like to try an experiment.  I’m going to call it a public brainstorm, and tag it as such for future reference.  So often I have ideas that I get excited about, let roll around in my head, and once in a while jot down on paper via scraps in the office or one journal or the other, but I rarely share them in any public way that would encourage accountability.  So here’s the first; I would appreciate any comments, criticisms, brilliant ideas for follow through, or public brainstorms on your own blog linked in a comment here.

Now to the subject of the title.  Data frustrates me.  Numbers and measurements certainly have their place, particularly to establish importance or relevance on the scale of a country or continent.  But when it comes to the neighborhood organizing level (and my line of work), statistical data leaves me not only cold, but bored and unmotivated.  While census information may tell the viewer of the income, education level, and racial breakdown of a particular neighborhood, it and similar purely quantitative studies lack one essential aspect of what makes a neighborhood vital and vibrant: stories.  Thus I return to my collegiate honors thesis (a phenomenological study of student activism) and the haven of qualitative information for a community organizing brainstorm on how to collect, connect, share and persuade with the colorful stories I am certain exist in my workplace neighborhood.

I should first explain that there are two exciting community building movements of sorts occurring in the ‘hood that up until my brainstorm this morning were entirely distinct projects, both in practice and in the minds of the participants.  The first I am only peripherally involved in, though it was the original impetus for my desire for qualitative research and creation.  This is the establishment of a Creative Enterprise Zone in the neighborhood, a place both material and abstract that will foster artists, artisans, and other creative entrepreneurs in the neighborhood.  The recently formed steering committee for this project is releasing their action document at a celebration event next week, which will hopefully blossom into enthusiasm and support across the neighborhood.  The biggest obstacle to this project, however, is not knowing who is here (ie. what artists and artisans are presently working in the n’hood) and what they want/need.  Several strategies for ‘outing’ these creative types have been suggested, usually orbiting around a quantitative (and sometimes web-based) survey, which I think is the wrong strategy entirely, or at the very least is merely a piece of a larger puzzle, but I’ll get to that.

The second movement is hope and action for a neighborhood Transition Town, spearheaded by our very own Energy Resilience Group (ERG).  Though they like to spend quite a bit of (and I would venture to say, sometimes excessive amount of) time thinking and discussing before taking action, ERG recently passed a resolution through the board of the community council supporting a community-based inventory and action plan to move toward becoming a full-fledged Transition Town.  For those of you who haven’t heard from me or read in past posts, the basic gist of Transition Towns is relocalization of everything to create more resilient communities and prepare for the inevitable effects of climate change and peak oil.  Serious stuff indeed, and inevitable too, which is why I’m excited that the neighborhoods in which I live and work have groups to discuss and implement the Transition Town ideas and action plans.

So, in summary: the Creative Enterprise Zone movement is too qualitative and the Energy Resilience Group is too methodical.  What can both connect and usher the two movements along?  Stories.  Stories elicited and shared in a way that is compelling to local residents, business owners, and other community members, as well as to politicians and grants organizations.  This is where my qualitative-research-based brainstorm comes in, inspired by the stories in Spark: How Creativity Works and the interviews and structure of the International News Station program Studio 360.

For those not familiar with Studio 360 (I wasn’t before reading Spark), host Kurt Anderson interviews various artists, from Kevin Bacon to Yo Yo Ma, on their craft and creativity. Spark is a compilation of essays distilled from those interviews and organized into various themes on how one finds and retains creativity.  These essays are brilliant not only in their insight into the minds of some of the most interesting creators of our era, but also in their simple authenticity.  The artists talk about what they love, why they do it, and what keeps them coming back, and sometimes even how they see their work existing in the larger creative sphere of present day culture.

I want to replicate the wonderful experiment that was and is Studio 360, because I am certain that we have similarly passionate artists and artisans in our own community that would be just as enthusiastic in sharing their story of their art and their lives.  But maybe instead of a radio show the product of similar interviews is a series of videos (we have filmmakers) or a zine (we have printmakers and bookbinders), or at the very least a monthly column in our wonderful local newspaper (that is actually read by a majority of the residents, mind you).  These interviews would not only highlight artists for the sake of inventorying the local Creative Enterprises, but would build a foundation of local creation and production that would be the basic of a community Transition Town.  Any movement must be built beginning with what already exists, and we are lucky enough to have an abundance of creative and intelligent individuals and enterprises in our community.  Now all we have to do is collect and share their stories to show everyone else what we can and will do.

What needs to happen to make my brainstorm reality?  I need to find people to interview, and come up with basic interview questions and/or interest-peaking conversation topics. I probably need someone to help me conduct the interviews as I am only at the Community Council for 23 hours a week.  I need to decide on a way to record said interviews, whether it is video (in which case I would need to find a videographer, preferably within the community) or print.  And, arguably most importantly, I need an audience for the end product that will sign on to creating the Creative Enterprise Zone and Transition Town community that the interviewees envision.  This audience must include community members, but need not be limited to people who live and work in the neighborhood.  In fact, it should be the City, likely the County, and possibly the state.  Heck, let’s send it on to the country while we’re at it, assuming there’s a venue to do so.

So there you have it, my first public brainstorm.  It harkens back to the Dreams Accountability Collaborative in a way, though this particular idea is work related and much more concrete than many of my dreams.  Now it’s up to me to follow up on my vision, and you, dear bloggers and internet browsers of the world, to give your feedback and share public brainstorms of your own.  The virtual podium is yours.

EXCO and Herbalism: how learning should be.

EXCO and Herbalism: how learning should be.

It has taken me this long to finally get to an EXperimental COmmunity education class, despite months of good intentions.  But in a way I’m glad I waited, because I think ‘Some Herbalism‘ will prove to be an excellent example of what grassroots, community driven, and free education can be.

I arrived fifteen minutes late to the first class today due to the silly mistake of thinking the address was ten blocks north of where it actually was.  The living room of the class facilitator was entirely PACKED with well over twenty people, mostly young, lots of crusty punk/hipster type kids, everyone enthusiastic and ready to listen and learn.  In spite of my developing cynicism for the fate of humanity as a whole (more on this later, it’s unavoidable really), I can’t help but think that we must be in for some sort of positive sea change when you can get a couple of dozen people together on a Thursday afternoon to talk and learn about an essential aspect of alternative and local health care.

The topic of this first class was White Oak Bark tincture, and the facilitator not only harvested twigs and purchased enough vodka for us all to make our tinctures, but created a handout describing proper harvesting, uses of the tincture, and a general step by step explanation of creating any sort of bark tincture.  After a relatively brief introduction on the class in general and the tincture preparation specifically, we all got to shaving our bark off our branches and chatting about this, that, and the other.  I’m already expecting to make some wonderful acquaintances at the very least as a result of this class.

This class, like all others in the EXCO ‘curriculum’, is free.  I don’t think I can say that enough, because while I have the utmost respect for most professors and can potentially see myself becoming one someday, I think true skills sharing in a community cannot have a price.  Instead it is rooted in passion and compassion, an authentic desire to share what one loves and knows with others.  Though it’s still at least a year away, I am delighted by the prospect of creating a space for this sort of priceless skill sharing and idea generation in the future house that Ben and I will have.  Education comes in many forms, all of them valuable.

What kinds of classes would you like to facilitate?  What free community classes would you take if they were available?

And now, for a gratuitous picture of an artsy accident:
Thanks to Benjamin for having a camera handy to document the serendipitous uniting of scissors and coffee grounds splash-over.


St. Paul’s Community Creativity in Concrete

So I have approximately 42378t2 great ideas for blog posts, some of them themed, some random musings, all much more exciting and community-minded than the metacognitive junk and I am sometimes prone to.  But life and work and quilting and Mere Existence is ASTOUNDINGLY BUSY AND DEMANDING at present, and blogging is one of the first victims of the time crunch.

However, there is an extraordinarily lovely opportunity for community art that I just must share, and the timeliness of the deadline insists that I share it today.
It’s sidewalk poetry!  Written by residents of St. Paul!  The process is nearly as community oriented and efficient as you can get; any resident of St. Paul can submit a poem (deadline is April 17th!) and a certain number are made into what are essentially sidewalk sized stamps that are used several times around the city when a sidewalk block needs replacing.  Aside from the initial stamp creation, I’m guessing that the project is relatively low budget because nothing new is being created while the prolific poets of St. Paul have their words immortalized.  I don’t live in St. Paul (though I’m just barely across the river) and don’t yet have enough confidence as a poet to submit anything I’ve written, but hopefully a year or two from now Minneapolis will embark on a similar project.

Read!  Write!  Create with delightful abandon!  And then share your work 🙂

The many projects of a deep Minnesota winter.

Between the coldest 24 hours we’ve had since 1996, and enough snow already to fill a normal winter’s quota, there has been ample time for projects thus far this season.  I’m still out biking and walking and adventuring to be sure, but much of my time off as of late has been spent creating indoors.  Here’s what I’ve been up to.

Birds!  I have proclaimed my love for them countless times, and finally started making them out of beer and cereal boxes.  Seen here finished are chickadees, cardinals, white breasted nuthatches, and blue jays.  The tannish blobs on the top right will be cedar waxwings.  I’m planning to make little tags to hang off of each bird with the bird’s name on one side and some lovely quote about birds/flying/freedom on the other.  If anyone has suggestions, please do share.  Ultimately I’ll probably put one of each kind together in a mobile of some sort, and might make little ornaments from the rest to leave on strangers’ bikes.

At long last I am progressing on my t-shirt quilt that’s been in the works for years.  The adorable pouch on top with eyes is my sewing kit, a birthday present from Benjamin that originally held my bicycle spoke engagement ring.

Yesterday Benjamin and I embarked on a massive veggie chopping adventure to come up with this delicious veggie hash.  It has carrots, potatoes, squash, turnips, onions and hot peppers, along with thyme, salt and pepper.  So tasty (and healthy!) along with…

bread, which no one can ever have enough of.  This particular loaf is a bit of wheat and rye flour (though mostly white to help with rising) with sunflower and flax seeds.  I’ve done breads all over the board though- a favorite had garlic chunks and fresh thyme in it, and a staple is 1/3 cornmeal rather than white flour.  It is amazing to know precisely what is in my food.

It is amazing how quickly time passes while I’m painting/cooking/sewing, especially if I have a record on (lately it’s been Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Ravi Shankar, and Bruteheart) and can completely meditate on the project at hand.  Being a homesteader/artist full time would be absolutely amazing; I very much enjoy my jobs, but many of my moments of true contentment and joy come when I’m lost in a project.


Beautiful things: November.

BIRDS!  The chickadees have been out in full force, joyously announcing the final days of autumn, and I was lucky enough to discover a pileated woodpecker on an oak snag in the golf course on Larpenteur yesterday.
You can’t really tell from the picture, but the pileated woodpecker is over a foot long, in comparison to the 6-9 inch woodpeckers of other sorts.  Grand indeed.

The new drivetrain on my Bridgestone bicycle.  It is so much more efficient and the gear sizing suits my travels.  With a single cog in the front (and, as a result, no front derailleur to get shifted out of wack and generally be a pain) and seven in the back, I can make good time in the flat bike lane of Minnehaha, and summit the Pelham hill on the way to work with relative ease.

Sour cream raisin pie.  I have promised to make it for Thanksgiving, though I am still intimidated by the prospect of whipping up good meringue.  Stories will certainly ensue, post haste.

Old factories and warehouses that are now artist spaces.  I went to a fantastic Halloween party at the Foci Minnesota Center for Glass Arts, which is housed in an old cookie factory.  They blew glass in the dark, and for $15 one received a handmade glass and unlimited refills of beer.

NaNoWriMo.  I haven’t started writing yet, and it might be a late night in order for me to get my 1,667 words out for the day.  But I’ve committed, and have gone a step further and set up a Tuesday afternoon write-in at the Fireroast Mountain Cafe.  Come join me in writing from 12-3 every Tuesday in November, or just stop by and say hello!

Be well, and enjoy the final vestiges of autumn!