Land of the Saints.

Land of the Saints.

My last two days in St Louis – including my first day off from biking in two weeks – have been splendid, to say the least. Late September in this lovely city is balmy and filled with luscious flowers in front of nearly every brick home.
My exploration on foot yesterday began with a friendly bookstore cat…

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Moved to the marvelous free art museum and zoo in Forest Park, a beautiful urban oasis…

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A courtyard installation by Andy Goldsworthy, a favorite artist of mine.

   

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Burrowing owls! I can't get enough birds.

And ended with delicious local brews at HandleBar, a bicycle themed bar in the Grove, an up and coming neighborhood I could easily see myself living in.

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Am I ready to pack up and leave Minneapolis for warmer Midwest climes? Not quite yet. But I do hope to visit St Louis again before too long.

Right Now I’m Reading: Barbara Kingsolver

High Tide in Tucson cover

I historically never was one for essays.  I’m far too addicted to the drama of novels and the in depth intellectualism of well written nonfiction.  But recently I find myself drawn to short stories and collections of essays.  Perhaps it is a deficit in attention span, my brain unwilling to commit to follow through.  But perhaps it is also (or instead) an appreciate for the succinct, the simple, the ability of a writer to capture meaning in merely a few pages.  Barbara Kingsolver does just this in her essay collection from the mid 90s, High Tide in Tucson.

A marvelous collection of pieces that is at once academic and emotional, Barbara eloquently recreates moments in time, from wild pigs uprooting her Arizona garden to the silently horrifying experience of touring an old missile site outside Tucson.  The latter essay spoke to me in particular in its wild array of reactions and reflections, from calculated observation of statistics on nuclear spending in the United States to raw grief.

“Why did I not scream at the top of my lungs down in that hole?”

Barbara has held a high place for years in my list of favorite authors, particularly Prodigal Summer, and remains so despite many years of many marvelous tales, triumphs, and tragedies.  A key element of this standing is Barbara’s quiet encouragement of the reader (and, I would argue, an aspiring writer such as myself) to both think critically and feel deeply.  Far too many authors fall one one side or the other of this false dichotomy, either relishing in overwrought emotionality or denying the feeling brain in favor of the cerebral.  As a human being, an activist, and a creator of any number of things I value fellow creators that can hold both of these things as Barbara does, a precarious balance to be sure, but one that is critical to our humanity.

My Sacred Intention

Though I ravenously read Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing many months ago, it has taken me all this time to pick up any of her other books.  And the reason for doing so is silly, but deeply rooted: my upbringing has given me an illogical but very present aversion to anything Wiccan/Pagan.  Which is absurd because I find much more truth, both personal and universal, in the feminist spiritual system of energies and elements than in the sterile, separatist Judeo-Christian system of my heritage.

At long last I got Starhawk’s Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature from the library, and I am loving it.  It’s not the sort of book one necessarily needs to read front to back, but rather I am opening to sections spontaneously and appreciating the personal stories, universal insights, and practices that Starhawk shares.

This morning, while idly sipping my coffee and enjoying a breakfast of local eggs and a perfectly ripe nectarine in the long awaited cool breeze after last night’s storm, I was reading through the chapter entitled ‘The Sacred’.  Toward the end I arrived at an exercise to meditate and write on one’s sacred intention, and rather than read it and move on, I decided to take the time to ponder what my personal sacred intention might be.  It is far to easy to think ‘oh, I’ve already thought about those things’, but enormously beneficial when such habit energies are overcome in order to actually consider what and why I think what I do.  Following is my meditation- responses would be much appreciated, either on your own sacred intention or thoughts on mine.

Connectedness is sacred to me- as Tait said at the ED/CO retreat, it is the secular religion.  I believe in and want to support/create: connectedness of people to their own bodies and emotional experiences, people to each other and the larger human community, people to the vast multitudes of other beings, and people to the spirit, the sacred, the larger truth and beauty of the universe.

I want to take a stand for connectedness, feel the need to do so deep in my bones and spirit, but am often not sure how to do so because it is such a vague thing to explain while also being deeply personal and experiential to me.

A world where connectedness was cherished would be glorious and sustainable.  Leaders and politicians would feel truly accountable to those they speak on behalf of.  The disparity of wealth would essential disappear because individuals would recognize and know how to enact the fact that the health and wealth of one is dependent on the health and wealth of the community.  People would be intentional about their choices in everything from what they consume to what they choose as their vocation to how they educate themselves, and such intentionality wouldn’t be overwhelming, but rather seen as an opportunity to better understand the vast web we live in.

I desperately and wholeheartedly want to help bring this world into being, and I long for guidance as to how to do so.  My current work, both as community organizer and urban community house organizer, does not feel in conflict with creating a world where connectedness is sacred, but neither does it feel like the best use of my energies.

I feel blocked in doing this work by the enormity of the systems that are in opposition to a world that cherishes connectedness, by apathy of so many around me, and by my own pessimism/cynicism regarding the future of humanity.  I’m not entirely sure what will help me remove these blocks.  Courage would be good.  Educatedly optimistic mentors and friends would help too.  And a way to process and move beyond the despair that creeps in now and again.  From the universe, I need continued moments of reverence and awe.  I don’t mind crying, and in the moments I feel so much a part of everything I could burst my physical bounds and join the spirit stuff, I know in every cell that something and everything matters.

In January I Read…

Scarlett – Alexandra Ripley
I alternately loved and absolutely abhorred the heroine, respecting her spunk and tenacity one minute and despising her weakness for Southern high society the next.  I also pictured Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable the. entire. time.

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
The second book in the Hunger Games trilogy was a one sitting read to be sure, briefly broken only for mock duck pad thai, medium spiciness of course.

Farm City – Novella Carpenter
This fantastic book makes every aspect of urban farming seem utterly approachable and delightful (albeit almost certainly messy).  I want backyard chickens and raised beds brimming with vegetables immediately.

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
I couldn’t resist the final installation of the Hunger Games trilogy.  These books are like candy; addictive yet easily forgotten once consumed.  Worth reading for the sheer adrenaline thrill, but as with many series I wasn’t really satisfied with the ending.

Mathilda Savitch – Victor Lodato
Fabulous and utterly disarming.  Novels written from the voice of an adolescent can be quite awful or spot on, and this was certainly the latter.
“I want something else, but the words for it haven’t been invented yet.”

Plenty – Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon
This was my second read of this delightful account of a year of local eating (something I don’t often do because there are JUST SO MANY wonderful books in the world, so why return to the same ones all the time?) in British Columbia, a place I hope to visit that is so near and dear to my other heart home, the Puget Sound area.
“Making jam had taken all afternoon and evening, but the last thing I’d call it was work.  It was living.”

A fun postscript: one of the Freshly Pressed posts of today is also about books read in January!  And the author and I not only have two books in common, but another of her reviews is of a book that’s in my library queue.  What a small, beautiful world…

Right Now I’m Reading: The Likeness

While the arrival of autumn announces the dwindling of local produce and extensive outdoor adventures, it also brings the advent of many things I love and can’t quite find time for in the summer: lazy days with tea, crafting and quilting, and READING.  I’m already in the book devouring stage, and The Likeness by Tana French is one of the first casualties.

I added French’s second novel to my library queue after reading a most excellent blog entry/book review/generally awesome contemplation of the universe by The Rejectionist on books that are like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.  If you haven’t read TSH, stop reading my ridiculous blog entry right now and go find a copy at your local used bookstore.  It’s downright addictive and dare I say perfect for the sort of weather we’re having in the Twin Cities these days.

The Likeness is almost as delectable as TSH, a murder-mystery-college-type morsel that has led to reading at a coffeeshop an hour longer than I planned and being twenty minutes late to work because I so desperately wanted to finish a chapter.  The characters aren’t quite the caliber of those in TSH, but I’m only about halfway through so I should probably reserve judgement until resolution.

Whether you are in school or the work world, The Likeness is a delightful break from reality.  Plus the author kind of looks like a fierce elf.

Next on the docket? Sheepish by Catherine Friend.  (Hit By a Farm was possibly my favorite read during the 2009 summer I spent working on sustainable farms in Western MN)  Recently finished?  Bossypants by Tina Fey.  Hi-freaking-larious.

Right Now I’m Reading: The Fifth Sacred Thing

Via a friend’s posting of the fantastic (and now, funded!) Kickstarter project to make a movie of the book, I finally picked up The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk.  And at about halfway through I’m wondering how and why I never read it before.

I’m a sucker for novels set in the future, for dystopias/utopias, and for nature writing.  This is all of the above.  The center stage for the story is San Francisco, circa 2048, which has been rebuilt as an enclave after the ruling corporations have taken over the rest of the country and perhaps the world.

Starhawk lays out a phenomenal vision of a future built around community, reverence for nature (ie the Four Sacred Things: earth, air, water and fire), authentic relationships, and ingenuity.  This rich novel is deeply feeding my desire for intentional community, something that just might be on my life’s horizon in the nearer future than I expected.

In the meantime, potlucks galore, collective visionings with friends (who wants to reestablish the Dreams Accountability Collaborative?), and deeply living and loving the last days of summer.