Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Shutters Open, Cobwebs Gone, Slow Living is Open for Business

August 14, 2011

Captain Trips and I arrived home the other day from our 10-week summer RV book-and-movie tourapalooza.  Not triumphantly, but in tears.

The RV at Monarch Campground

Gone are the mornings one of us looks at the other and says, “Do you know what day is it?” and neither one of us knows.  Or, “What do you want to do today?” and both of us shrug.  We knew we didn’t have to decide; the adventure would simply appear.  Apart from showing up for book readings and movie screenings, we could go where we wanted, stop when we pleased, hang out at the town pool wherever we happened to land, listen to the rain at night on our little metal roof.

We had our moments, surely.  I had altitude sickness in Yellowstone, packrats ate our air conditioning in Kansas, and the RV, big lug that it is, crashed into a few minor tree branches.  We almost had a flat tire.  Almost.  For nearly 8000 miles of safe travel, we’re grateful.

We’ll spend the next few decades waxing nostalgic for our summer.  Even the near-misses and mishaps of the past 10 weeks have taken on the rosy patina of comedy and time.

We’re selling the RV, so I guess we’ll stay planted.  But Captain Trips and I intend to hang on to that feeling of freedom.  To make time and space in our days for whatever adventure comes.  To hang out and simply breathe in the pleasure of the world.

If you find yourself anywhere near our back yard, stop in for a tale of the road.  And in the meantime, here’s to slow living wherever you are.  And welcome home.

man sitting at picnic table contemplating the woods

Captain Trips, Waiting for the Adventure to Appear

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Closing Up Shop

March 21, 2011

Now that my book tour is in high gear, I need to slow some things down.  So I’m closing up the shutters on the blog for awhile.  You’re kindly invited to mosey over to the My Ruby Slippers blog, where your subscription will bring you updates from the road.  Meanwhile, feel free to peruse the archives here for thoughts on slow living in the fast lane.  And wherever you are, keep reading.

Details about dates and venues on the book tour are here. Do come out, spread the word, and bring your friends.  Meeting in person is ever so much nicer than…well, you know.

updated 3/29/11

New Year’s Resolution: Wrap a Fast Year in Slowness

January 10, 2011
Red tomato-shaped pin cushion with strawberry needle sharpener

There's a reason my pin cushion looks like something from my garden

As you know, I like tootling along in the slow lane, making jam, planting onions, reading books made of trees.  Just this past weekend, I sewed up a satchel for my laptop. And if that’s not an emblem for the coming year, I can’t think of one that is. On the outside, you’ve got something hand-crafted. On the inside, a machine that’s a sign of the times: speed, connection, information, and oh that monkey, monkey mind.

Because 2011 is the year of the book. My book, which comes out in March. So while books usually take me to the slow side, this book means crankin’ things up.  My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas is going on tour.  Ten weeks on the road starting in June, from California to Indiana and parts in between.  And having just spent the last of my trust fund, I am become my own publicist.  Let’s not even get into the details of such a chore except to say it’s composed of a million little pieces that could well fritter away my brain.

So my challenge in the midst of the whirl is to do something slow every day, to bring it all back to the ground of stillness and contemplation.

New Year’s Resolution #1:  Take a tip from that satchel with the laptop inside: Wrap each day in slowness.  To start with, on waking, give an hour to writing.  Sit for awhile and breathe.  In.  Out.  And before tucking myself in for the night, have a nice, slow read.

fat, black question markWhat slow resolutions have you made for the year?  And what’s on your reading pile?

Links: If you’re new to the blog and wonder about monkey mind, read here.  If you want the scoop on My Ruby Slippers, start here.

Christmas Gifts and Glad Tidings at the Solstice

December 18, 2010

Oak King Winter SolsticeMy neighbor Amelia doesn’t make a big deal out of Christmas.  “Every day’s Christmas to me,” she says.  “I give and I get every day of the year.”

I call that attitude a marvel, now.  In fact, I’ve decided to adopt it myself.  So in the spirit of Amelia, I thought I’d chalk up just a handful of this year’s gifts.

Hummingbirds. Dozens of Anna’s hummingbirds landed in my willow tree this week.  They’ve been hanging around the garden, sipping nectar from the hummingbird sage, thinking their hummingbird thoughts.  It’s either early or late for migration, and they’re not saying why they’ve come.  But they like to sit in the tree and preen and stare at me through the window.  The glint in those little black eyes is even better than a visit from the magi.

My students aren’t hummingbirds, but they do bring me news from the foreign land of youth.  I’m especially enamored of my Literature and the Environment students this week, who just finished exams and turned in such extraordinary final projects I can hardly speak.  Which is what happens when you turn learners loose on topics they care about and ask them to teach someone else what they know.  They taught sauerkraut classes; hosted local food teaching dinners; created blogs about sustainable fashion, recycled art, music and nature, and community gardens.  They made sculptures, did public art installations, convened classes in their dorms, taught faculty about green roofs…. And they related it all to the works we had read.  Whew!  They’re a wonder.

The Biosphere. The sparkle of our technologies and the comfort of our lives make it easy to forget where we live.  Yet everything we buy, eat, wear, use and breathe comes from the earth.  We live inside its systems.  It’s our habitat.  Its health is ultimately ours.  May we honor the gift by doing all we can to restore it—and us—to wholeness.  If you want to join me, here’s a good place to begin, figuring out your environmental footprint.

Holly berries and leaves in snowSlowness. Slowness gives us time for neighbors and contemplation, asks us to ponder the wisdom of our choices before we leap.  It gives us reading and ideas and life close to home, a retreat from frenzy and waste.  At our tables, slowness means finding our food and food traditions close to home.  On this blog, it’s meant slow books and slow reading and digging in the garden.  Everywhere, it means knowing the place we live in the deepest sense, from its ecology to its human stories.  At Christmas, slowness means entering the darkness of winter with a quiet heart, seeking wisdom, celebrating the light.  So I’ll put a shiny bow on that one for sure.  Especially since this year, a full moon will shine on the winter solstice.

You. It’s been a great year on the blog, thanks to you.  Some of you arrived by way of the Slow Reading bit in the Guardian, some of you happened by out of chance, some of you were sent by friends, some of you came by because you’re my sisters or daughters or friends, some via Twitter or that Zuckerberg thing.  Some of you, for reasons unknown, arrived by way of a mad, global interest in spider monkeys.  Brave new world.

So, as the year draws to a close, I remain perched on the ambivalent edge of the tech revolution, knowing that embracing it means jumping into a sea of noise, and that without it, I would never have found all of you.  And that has been a gift.

Good Christmas, glad solstice wherever you are.  And peace.

What Good Are Printed Books? Here We Go Again…

October 26, 2010

Dear Readers, I ask you, what good are printed books?

This question grows old, I agree, after we spent weeks addressing it on this very site.  Still, a recent spate of articles has sent it chasing round my brain, so here we are again.

EXHIBIT A: “The Fate of the Book” in The Chronicle Review

Article One: William Germano’s provocative title “What Are Books Good For?” leads to the less provocative claim that even inside the “knowledge machine” of a digital text, the codex remains as a “ghost-like” presence.  The book, in other words, once “freed of its materiality,” yet lives.

Okay, maybe I’m a little provoked.  But hold that thought.

Article Two: “The Cult of the Book—and Why it Must End” by Jeffrey R. Di Leo.

Throwing around words like “cult” and “myth” is a dirty rhetorical gambit.  But Di Leo does it repeatedly, which makes me want to just kick him in the shins.

In his favor, Di Leo argues that digital multi-media offers exciting prospects for hybrid forms that should be valued by the academy.  Who could disagree?

But if Professor Di Leo wants to root out the cult of the mythic book, he’s going to have to hire meatier thugs than these three 90-pound weaklings: “Digital books are more affordable, accessible, and environmentally friendly.”

The Old One-Two-Three Knock-Out Punch, or What happens Your Opponent Brings His Own Strawmen to the Fight

Books on a shelf

Also not an e-book

More environmentally friendly? Having dispelled Di Leo’s cult-like myth before, I will repeat only briefly that e-readers are not made of pixie wings, and don’t run on dreams.  In fact, e-readers are MORE environmentally destructive than mowing down trees.  I’m tired.  YOU look up the environmental and human cost of manufacturing, transporting, running and disposing of the hardware required for e-media. Multiply that by the speed of planned obsolescence.  Then look up the data on the escalating CO2 emissions from server farms and weep.

More affordable? Affordability doesn’t end at the bottom of our pockets.  It ends when we’ve counted all the costs.  And costs to the planet (see above) are ultimately costs to our own well-being.  Perhaps on his next sabbatical, Professor Di Leo might invest in a good course on ecoliteracy, and another on environmental justice.

More accessible?  To whom? According to George Lucas’ Edutopia, half (HALF) the households in the U.S. have no internet access at home.  How many of those families can afford reading gadgets?  Globally, the picture’s even worse.

But Wait, There’s More

Here’s the kicker: Professor Di Leo writes that “Words may look better in print, and a book may feel better in your hands than a Kindle or an iPad, but the words are the same.”

Well, yes, and if I scrawled Ulysses on Dublin walls with the rusty point of a two-penny nail, I could say pretty much the same thing: The “words may look better in print, and a book may feel better in your hands…but the words are the same.” (more…)

Thoreau Just Last Wednesday

September 25, 2010

So in the great reality show that is contemporary life, comes this concatenation of events:

I.

I’m on the bus eavesreading over someone’s shoulder.  “Justin Bieber Caught Canoodling in L.A.”  I think, “Canoodling”?  I think, “That’s a headline??”  I think, “Poor kid, forced to live in public.”

II.

I am just getting started pondering the decline and fall of empires, of newspapers, of public discourse, of privacy, when the bus whooshes to a stop and on hops a teenage girl with her pleasant-seeming friend.  The first girl is laughing and talking at top volume, though not with her pleasant-seeming friend, but with an imaginary one.  Or so it seems.   For the next fifteen minutes, I listen, for example, to the following:

Real Girl: So did he call her a bitch?  Or did you?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ****  *************  *****  **********

Real Girl: You did?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ******   *************  ***  ******************  **

Real Girl: Who started it?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ***   ****    **  *****   **   ******

Real Girl: Yeah, I miss my iPod, too.

Blue Tooth Fairy: ****  ***** ** * ******    **

Real Girl: You did?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ***

Real Girl: OMG !  !  !  (*Raucous laughing*)

Literally, she said the letters,­ “O.  M.  G.”

While I’m overhearing and thinking about declines and falls, canoodling teen idols with weird hair (and why or why not I should know this), living or not living in public, coerced and voluntary eavesdropping, teenagers—both widely known and not—in the age of reality media, feeling glad that I feel my next blog post coming on—which launches a whole new cascade of thinking about writing and meaning and why or why not there is any irony here—the girl’s real friend gazes out the window, watching the city roll by, utterly alone.

III.

I hop off the bus at the university where I teach, glad for the hush of fog at 8 a.m., and stroll across the damp grass to drop some books off at the library.  I stroll by the “New Arrivals” shelf and browse titles.  I spy a book by James Hawes, WHY YOU SHOULD READ KAFKA BEFORE YOU WASTE YOUR LIFE.

IV.

I sit in my office, check and answer email, check for new status updates, check on tweets, click some links, ponder culpability for declines and falls and participation in same.  Ponder futility.  Ponder monkey-mind.  Ponder Thoreau.  (more…)

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…)

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.

Summer Around the Old Homestead

June 24, 2010

The Back Forty

In my fantasy life, I live on five acres with chickens and honeybees and a lamb or two, and an enormous garden that feeds me all year.  In my real life, I do what I can.  Since we just passed the solstice, I thought I’d post a round-up of the summer homestead news from here in the flatlands of Oakland.

After a long, wet winter and cold, wet spring, the plum report is a little bit mournful this year.  The fruit is small and slow to ripen, and we’ve got a little brown rot eating up some of the fruit.  That stuff can devour a full-sized plum in an afternoon.  Still, most of the crop is surely ripening, and I’ve already eaten a few.   They smell like perfume and taste like nectar, and I’ve never found a better plum anywhere. We’re warming up the jam-pots to get ready for harvest, which should start rolling in next week.

This morning, I found a ripe plum on the ground that must have fallen in the night, but some little critter had already chowed down.  I suspect the neighborhood possum, who’s also been known to sneak through the cat door to nab a snack of kibble.  It might also have the local raccoon, who’s been marauding around here for years. (more…)