Pack Rat Palladio

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Admission: I’m a column hoarder. And the past few days I’ve been laying about, recovering from minor ailments and watching, through binoculars, a nice old house get demolished. I had my eye on the columns from the front porch and I just happened to be watching as the workers started pitching those columns into a dumpster. Summoning a reserve of foolish energy, I ran over and asked the workers if I could have the columns. I now have four more columns for my collection. Kelly is concerned.

Over the years I’ve acquired quite a few columns. I think their abundance has something to do with the Dwell Magazinifiction of our old neighborhood. As poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay put it, “As public sex was embarrassing to the Victorians, public classicism is to us.” The mid-century modern crowd just doesn’t dig the Doric, the Ionic or the Corinthian. Columns, molding, wood siding, old windows and many other ornamental details have fallen out of favor and are ending up on the curb.

House flippers loss, my gain. I’ve put my column collection to work as a grape arbor:

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As garden follies:
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And a pretentious flanking of our back door:

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I’ve done a bit of indiscriminate column hoarding too. This tacky one should probably have been let in the street:

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As soon as I recover from last week’s kidney stone surgery, I plan on restoring the four I just scavenged for use either as a shade covering for the back patio, a neo-classical clothes line or an extension of our rose arbor entry.

Perhaps someday I’ll aspire to something as grand as the broken column house in the Désert de Retz.

Brother, My Cup is Empty

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Nick Cave in 20,000 Days on Earth.

Here at Root Simple we’ve long had a rule that it’s forbidden to write a blog post about why there’s no blog post. Nick Cave’s song There She Goes My Beautiful World sums up why. In short it’s pathetic to explain why I don’t feel like writing a new rocket stove post when much better writers easily accessed the muses under far more difficult circumstances. As Cave puts it,

John Wilmot penned his poetry
Riddled with the pox
Nabokov wrote on index cards
At a lectern, in his socks
St. John of the Cross did his best stuff
Imprisoned in a box
And Johnny Thunders was half alive
When he wrote Chinese Rocks

Our excuses? A kidney stone caused emergency room visit. We have a sick cat (Phoebe’s heart took a turn for the worse). Kelly had a record setting multi-day migraine.

So I guess this means that I’ve finally written the infamous “why there is no post” post. I’ll let Cave have the last word:

So if you got a trumpet, get on your feet
Brother, and blow it
If you’ve got a field, that don’t yield
Well get up and hoe it
I look at you and you look at me and
Deep in our hearts know it
That you weren’t much of a muse
But then I weren’t much of a poet

Skyglow Raises Awareness of Light Pollution

Two local LA photographers, Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan, just surpassed their Kickstarter goal to fund a very worthy project: a book, using the duo’s stunning timelapse photography to raise awareness of the problem of light pollution. For us humans, if we can’t see the night sky we lose our sense of wonder. But light pollution also harms many of the earth’s organisms, from migrating birds to insects.

This is one of those problems that would be relatively easy to fix simply by making sure that lighting is not directed upwards and by using bulbs that emit light on a limited portion of the spectrum. And we’ll save energy in the process. Unfortunately, as the Los Angeles Weekly recently reported, the City of Los Angeles has not done a good job with light pollution.

If you’d like to contribute to Mehmedinovic and Heffernan’s project, their website is skyglowproject.com. And check out our post on light pollution, Why Your Garden Should Be Dark at Night.

Tools for Conquering Internet Addiction

optical-illusion

I think there are two deadly sins for the DIYer: One is accumulating cast off items for theoretical future projects. The other is falling into the trap of either researching a subject so thoroughly that somehow you never get around to actually doing it, or avoiding doing that research in the first place by checking email, Facebook or any of the other anti-productive tools our Silicon Valley overlords subject us to.  It’s the distraction problem I’d like to look at today.

The state of restless research and “busyness” that leads to ultimate inaction is an aspect of what was known in the Middle Ages as acedia and what has misleadingly come to be known as “sloth”. For me it begins this way, “I’ll just check my email.” Then, two hours later, I’ve descended to the click bait circle of  hell where I’m viewing all the latest cat memes, 80s music videos and hitting the “like” button like a mouse in a Skinner box.

I’ve become very worried in the past few years about this interweb induced state of acedia. As Nicholas Carr observed in his prescient 2008 article in the Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” I’ve noticed that my attention span seems to be shrinking and that I’m less able to sit down and read books without the temptation to jump on the Internet and look stuff up. I’ve also noticed that I’m having a harder time initiating and completing the sort of gardening, cooking, food preservation and general DIY projects that provide fodder for this blog and for our books.

I think it’s time for some drastic action. It’s time to limit certain highly additive and often counter-productive Internet activities such as email, social media and general surfing not related to my core mission. Two tools I’m evaluating are LeechBlock, which works with the Firefox browser and allows you to block up to six sets of sites for certain periods of the day and two Chrome-based apps, Stay Focused and Strict Workflow (which uses a Pomodoro timer, an enforced 25 minute work period I’ve found helpful).

In the past I’ve found limiting email and social media to two brief periods a day, in the morning and late afternoon, really enhances my productivity. The problem is that I’ve fallen off this wagon. I’m hoping that these apps will get me back into this twice a day communications habit. I’m also thinking of taking the radical step of limiting emails to five sentences using the fivesentenc.es email signature.

While I find the internet to be a very useful research tool, not to mention a great way to publish my thoughts in both words and audio, I’ve become concerned of late with unintended consequences. At the risk of seeming alarmist, I think we may be in for some turbulent years as the full implications of a hyper-connected world work their way through our culture. Anyone watching Wolf Hall? The unmentioned offstage character in that drama is the printing press. Mobile computing, texting and the “Internet of things” could prove even more disruptive than Gutenberg’s invention.

Is Internet addiction a problem for you? What technique or tools have you found useful?

Grief is the pathway to action

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Clear cutting near Eugene, Oregon. Photo by Calibas. Courtesy of Wikimedia

Grief

Day before yesterday we had a little rain here in Los Angeles, a late season shower in a drought year.

I suspect we won’t see rain again until December. This long interval of dryness is normal in a Mediterranean climate, but what is not normal is how little rain fell this winter (or last winter, or the one before that, or the one before that), and how parched we are already as we look toward a nine month long summer with no hope of relief.

So I sat on the porch and experienced the rain, happy just to feel the cool, wet air on my skin one last time, yet at the same time feeling angry and frustrated and sad.

And as I sat there, I thought of conversations I’ve had with people who’ve confessed that they are grieving for what is being lost all around us, or they are grieving for a world their children will never know. Often they feel alone, as if no one else cares, or is much bothered at all.

I don’t think we like to acknowledge this grief, the deep sadness that comes from witnessing the diminishing of the world and the death of species due to human influence of various sorts. There isn’t any public forum for airing it.  (“Tonight at 9, a public gathering to weep over the disappearing starfish.”)

Yet I don’t think it’s all that uncommon to be sad, and what’s more, it is, of course, entirely appropriate to be sad. We’ve been discussing environmental degradation since the 70’s, if not before, but I feel like now it’s beginning to hit home, and hit hard. It’s not uncommon to feel sad because:

  • That little wilderness you loved playing in as a kid has been covered by a housing development
  • You can’t see the stars from your parents’ house anymore
  • You don’t hear the frogs sing at night anymore, either.
  • When you hike you feel like it’s awfully quiet. Where have the birds gone?
  • The fish seem to have left that spot you used to fish at with your grandpa
  • As you drive in the mountains you notice half the trees are turning brown

Or maybe you grieve or things you don’t witness, but hear about, like the plastic gyres in the ocean, worldwide deforestation, those last four white rhinos in Africa, quietly grazing away the final days of their species, the polar bears swimming in circles.

Often we don’t talk about these things because we don’t want to be a downer. Nor do we want to be labeled morbid, pessimistic, impractical, oversensitive or even (gasp!) a tree-hugger.

(FYI I was reprimanded in kindergarten for repeatedly arriving at school covered in sap because I’d been hugging trees all the way to school.)

But the grief is there, the endangered elephant in the room, which we walk around and talk past, and do our best to ignore by making our lives ever busier.

And anyway, what are we supposed to do about it?

Suburbia by David Shankbone. Tract housing in Colorado Springs

Action

I think there is something to do about it–about both the grief and the problems which lead to the grief.

I’m talking about work and atonement.

First, we in the developed world must own that our lifestyle has cost this planet dearly, and impacted all our fellow creatures as well as our fellow men. No matter how “good” we try to be with our recycling and organic produce, we are the heart of the problem. Us. Not other people. We use the roads. We fly. We shop. We use gas and petroleum and electricity and coal.

We all carry the responsibility for what is happening now. Not just the politicians. Not just your clueless sister-in-law. Not that guy driving the SUV. You.

I’m beating this point over the head because it’s way too easy to blame others for this, or to blame abstractions, like “the consumerist lifestyle”, or to think if everyone was like you, things would be better. I doubt it. Even if you’re some kind of off-grid saint, I’d still ask where you came from, and how you got there.

Too often I tell myself I’m doing “good enough” and “all I can” and that anyway, “I’m doing more than most people.” This leads to inaction.

Also, when I tell myself those things, I am lying.

This brings me back to the grief. Grief doesn’t allow me to lie to myself for long. Grief calls me to action. Grief alone can be paralyzing, but when paired with action, it becomes an ally, a compass, a burning fire in our hearts.  Grief can motivate us and activate us and spur us to do more than we’ve ever tried before.

Atonement

When we hurt someone, we apologize. But as you know if you’ve ever been on the other end of the hurt, an apology alone isn’t enough. It’s not enough that the one who injures feels bad about it, they have to learn from the mistake, so they don’t do the same thing again. They have to re-form their hearts.

That is the path of atonement between us and the natural world. Grief is not an end, it’s a beginning.

Can we re-form our hearts to make them big enough to encompass the world? I think we can.

And then we begin the work.