3 Mules the Movie

Back in 2012 Kelly and I were running an errand in the neighborhood when we encountered a man with three mules walking down busy Sunset Boulevard. I put up a quick blog post with a few photos. Thanks to Google, for the next two years, my blog post became a place to comment on the whereabouts of the “mule man” whose real name is John Sears.

Through that same blog post we met a very talented local filmmaker named John McDonald who has been working on a documentary about Sears. I had the great privilege of seeing a short work in progress version of the film McDonald would like to complete.

It turns out the story is more complex than I would have imagined from my first encounter with the mule man on Sunset Boulevard. Sears is making a point about public space and our rights to travel and use the commons. It’s a stance that often puts him at odds with law enforcement, local governments and, perhaps, modernity itself.

You can see some excerpts from McDonald’s film on YouTube and make a tax deductible contribution towards completing the project. You can follow Sears via his Facebook page 3 Mules. McDonald’s website is 3mulesmovie.com.

The Fertile Ground of Bewliderment

It’s Memorial Day in the U.S. which means that most of our domestic readers are probably not reading Root Simple blog posts. For those few of you who are, allow me to suggest a podcast to listen to while you recreate, garden, or mix a cocktail. It’s a lecture by Charles Eisentein delivered last year at St. James Church in London. He begins with the need to stop the paradigm and language of being at war with everything: bugs, people, germs etc. My favorite bit comes during the question and answer session when Eisenstein addresses a concept of interconnectedness he calls, “interbeing.”

Interbeing is the truth. You can only suppress it at great and growing effort, temporarily, until you become exhausted. It’s like a parking lot covered in cement. If you don’t constantly maintain it in a state of ugliness, then beauty will erupt. Dandelions will come up, it’ll crack, and in fifty years it’ll be beautiful. And we are getting exhausted now at maintaining an ugly world.

You can read a transcript of the lecture here and listen to more of Eisenstein’s podcasts here.

Changing the World One Party at a Time

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Artist’s depiction of Jennie’s monthly neighborhood party. Extra points for finding our new dog in the painting.

Once a month, our neighbor Jennie Cook (our guest on episode 50 of the Root Simple Podcast) hosts a cocktail party for neighbors. She started the party ball rolling by sticking handwritten invites in mailboxes up the block. Usually, around twenty people show up.

I’ve come to believe that the most revolutionary acts in our lives are those that reduce separation and loneliness. The philosopher Hannah Arendt called totalitarianism, “organized loneliness.”(1) As Arendt implies, this loneliness is by design. Facebook, Google, Nextdoor, Apple et al. make money when we’re sniping at each other on our phones and keyboards, not when we have a cocktail glass in our hands.

This weekend, in South Pasadena, I’m giving a presentation on the subjects we cover in our blog and books. The organizer wants me, in particular, to address the legalities of keeping chickens. But even if chickens are legal where you live, neighbors can start a ruckus in the henhouse about them and about a whole host of other contentious issues such as parking, trees and landscape maintenance. But if we already know each other socially, these sorts of fights are less likely to start.

But I think it would be a mistake to throw neighborhood parities with utilitarian goals. The party is an end in itself. One shouldn’t put a price on fun, joy or a well mixed libation.

I could go on, but I’m going to cut this post short so that I can start the process of getting our house in to shape so we can host a few of these neighborhood parties in the future. And I want to close with a plug for Jennie Cook. She has a cookbook, Who Wants Seconds, full of recipes that will make everyone at your party happy. And if you live in Los Angeles and need a caterer for any event large or small, I can’t say enough good things about Jennie Cook’s Catering.

Now, go forth and throw a party for your neighbors!

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The Call to Create: Marguerite Knutzen 1925-2017

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My mom passed peacefully in her home last week. She was a loving, kind and patient mom. To her I owe my life’s calling: the joys of making, doing and teaching.

My mom taught junior high art, crafts and ceramics before I was born. She took a break to raise me and then went back to teaching as an elementary school aide.

Teaching at the junior high level is no easy task. Schools dump students with academic and home problems into the arts classes just to keep them busy. My mom’s call to be a teacher wasn’t really about how to turn a pot on a wheel.

I’ll let my mom explain. In a stack of her papers I found this note:

As a former teacher of 30 years working with junior high (now called middle school) and elementary students I was always challenged to keep the art activities of crafts, ceramics, drawing and painting “on the move.” This age student is very active and has a spontaneous ability to create and be uninhibited. That is how God created the teenager.

In later years I had the opportunity to work with adults who tend to toss creating aside by saying, “I can’t draw a straight line.” Inhibition sets in. The truth is God created us to be creative and we all have it within us. Our lives are enriched by the activities involved in creativity around us. Not just in the art of drawing but in dance, theater, writing, reading a story to a child, entertaining in our homes, gardening, workshops, singing, playing an instrument and on and on.

People are stimulated when encouraged and often find new abilities they never thought they had.

I will miss my dear mom. But it gives me great comfort to know that she touched so many lives.

A Three Step Strategy for Curing Internet/Smart Phone Addiction

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I suspect I’m not alone in finding myself checking the news on the interwebs a little too much lately. While I have a rule against discussing politics on this blog, let’s just say that I think we can all agree that things have gotten profoundly weird. Each day brings with it new kookiness and with that novelty comes the desire to stay glued to our smart phones and computers.

How to break that addictive cycle may just be one of the great questions of our time. On our deathbeds, I doubt many of us will look back fondly on those thousands hours we spent on our Facebook news feeds.

So what practical steps can be taken to climb out of the internet hole? I have a simple, three part thesis:

  1. Recognize that we fall down in the Facebook/Twitter/News Feed hole when we are feeling anxious, lonely or depressed.
  2. The only way to avoid wasting time on the smartphone/interwebs is to replace that mindless surfing with alternative activities.
  3. Engaging in those alternative activities, particularly physical ones, establishes a positive feedback loop that reduces problem 1.

At this risk of this post turning into yet another listicle, here are some suggested alternate activities to plug into point #2:

  • Take a class. Hint: if you pay for the class you are more likely to go.
  • Schedule a time to exercise. The more that exercise activity interferes with the ability to use a smart phone the better.
  • Don’t look at your phone/computer first thing in the morning. Pick up a book first.
  • Build something.
  • Garden, pull some weeds and plant some vegetables.
  • Go to concerts, plays, lectures etc.
  • Seek out a spiritual practice that involves both private time and scheduled group engagement.
  • Read and apply some of the “deep work” anti-distraction strategies found in Cal Newport’s blogs and books.

I think the common thread with these activities is redirection and physical separation from our computers and phones, though I’ve found that you can take an online class and avoid mindless surfing with some discipline. There are many other activities that I’ve left off here, and I’d love to hear suggestions from our readers in the comments.

Much has been made of the crack-headed bio-neurological addictiveness of the internet, particularly Facebook. While there’s some truth here, the philosophy nerd in me rejects the idea that this problem is entirely within the domain of the neuroscientist/psychologist (see David A. Bank’s excellent critique of positivist explainerism if big ideas float your boat). Internet addiction is not a problem that can be solved solely on the individual level. We also need collective action. We need to meet face to face, create new narratives and work together to make the world a better place. Face to face group activities go a long way in defeating the cult of the individual so favored by the Silicon Valley elite who profit from our distraction.

Still, there will be times that problem #1 gets the best of us. We won’t always succeed in avoiding the interweb hole and we might, as Newport suggests, even schedule some time to mindlessly surf just to get it out of our system. But the more we get out and just do stuff the less we’ll end up internet surfing and the better we’ll feel. In short, schedule a time to surf a real wave rather than a virtual one.