Archive for July, 2010

Monkey Minds Unite. Or, What Kind of Knowledge is a Poem?

July 27, 2010

Wow!   One week, you write about monkey-mind and before you know it, monkey-minds everywhere write in to say, Amen, Sister.  They’ve commented here, sent emails, started discussions on other sites, blogged, commiserated, argued, wondered and been altogether jolly.   Enthusiasm for “Slow” has erupted so widely and all at the same time that I’m rethinking spontaneous combustion.

Someone may be about to jump in and say, “How ironic!”  Because after all, we found each other through the internet—the very same gizmo whose “Off” button we have pledged to enjoy more often.  Well, of course.

All of which leads me to the point of this week’s blog: Ambiguity, thinking, and the question of what counts as knowledge.

Ever since Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows hit the stage, the debate’s been on about the value of the internet and the value of Carr.   Evgeny Morozov, for example, equates Carr’s argument with that of a chap pitiful enough to denounce the telegraph in 1889.   Others reach even farther back to those who found moveable type disturbing.  (Personally, I’m not yet ready to give up on cuneiform, but that’s perhaps another topic).

Now in our culture the easiest way to make someone sound silly is to call them old-fashioned, and what could be funnier, really, than fearing moveable type?   “Ack!  The alphabet!  On little pieces of metal!”  (more…)


Slowing Down My Own Monkey Mind

July 17, 2010

This week around the global water cooler, there’s been a lot of buzz about Slow Reading.  And if there’s anything I like better than Slow Food, it’s Slow Reading–the kind we do when we’re thoughtful, focused, and engaged.  The problem, though, is that the internet, for all its merits, is making slow reading harder to do.   By rerouting the circuitry of our brains, it’s turning them all into monkey minds.

That at least seems to be the verdict of Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows…and of me.   I can’t speak for your monkey mind, so I’ll just speak for mine.

As you know if you’ve been tracking this blog, I’m an advocate of Slow.   Slow food, slow books, slow reading, slow life.  I grow a lot of my own veggies, make my own  jam, and buy from local farmers; I won’t buy an e-reader; my five-year-old cell phone is not shiny or smart.  I even make time in my week to do nothing.   But I also live and work in the plugged-in world.  Which means that after a few hours on the internet, my mind can get as chattery as any other primate’s.

If I were a stronger monkey, I would unplug for most of each day.  And I wouldn’t leave my browser open when I’m writing.  But I am not that monkey.  So today, I called in reinforcements. (more…)

Knowing Our Place: Learning from a Cracker Childhood

July 13, 2010

I grew up mostly unrooted, so when I read Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, I wished that I, too, had grown up poor in a rural Georgia junkyard with parents so religiously fundamentalist they forbade my wearing pants, cutting my hair, or having friends over to play.  That’s just how good a storyteller she is.   But Ecology is even more than a great story, it’s an act of devotion to place.   Ray’s embrace gathers in the human tales of family and Cracker culture, but also those of the longleaf pine forests that once blanketed the South.    For those of us who lack her deep connection to culture and land, this book is an occasion for longing.

Ray’s rootedness fascinates me, as rootedness always does when I meet people who have it.  Outside the South, they’re not that easy to find.   Most of us in the U.S. are mobility incarnate, variously attached—or not—to a series of addresses, but without deep knowledge of the places we live.   Even if we feel fiercely devoted to our city or neighborhood, we rarely know the deep, ecological story of the land our houses stand on.  Ray’s book is about roots in that deepest sense.  Its chapters alternate between yarns about family and tales of the longleaf pine and its whole forest ecosystem: the complex interdependence of pine trees and wiregrass, indigo snake and gopher tortoise, scrub buckwheat and chaffseed and the Mississippi sandhill crane.  She tells that story, too, in a way that will hold you spellbound. (more…)

Slow News: Plum Crazy

July 7, 2010

Apologies for the blog delay, but we’re in the midst of a plum emergency.  My plum tree decided that it was time for every one of its 600 plums to be ripe.  NOW.  So the kitchen’s been a-boiling with vats of jam, butter, chutney, and sauce.  For days, I’ve been slicing, simmering and spicing up plums, filling hot glass jars and screwing on lids; sliding the filled jars into the boiling water bath, and whew!   I’ve been a one-woman assembly line.  The best part is when, after ten minutes in the boiling bath, the shining jars come out of the bath to cool.  That little ‘pock’ you hear when the lids seal tight is one of the loveliest sounds of summer.

What could make life more complete?  Well, it turns out this week that I’ve been translated into French on the writer Nathalie Chassériau’s blog “Vive le Lenteur”—Long Live Slowness.   To which I say, Amen.   I was shocked to hear that I’d missed International Slow Day on June 21 (I guess the news was too slow to reach me in time), but I do love the way I sound in French:  « Nous sommes tellement amoureux des technologies que nous ne prenons pas le temps de penser au meilleur moyen de nous en servir,  ni quelles peuvent en être les implications. Les livres sont devenus pour moi le lieu idéal où  je peux enfin lever le pied ».   I said most of that (in English) to a Newsweek reporter, but I don’t remember saying the part about “enfin lever le pied,” but now that I think of it, what a bonne idée!  Merci, Nathalie!

So, quick post this week, to catch you up on the plum situation.   In the coming weeks, look forward to more Slow News from North Oakland, including some slow book reviews, and your eagerly-awaited update on the neighborhood farm news.  In the meantime, I’m going to crack open a new slow book I just bought and lever le piedVive le Lenteur!  And le jam.