Saturday, February 16, 2008

Just Another Day in Paradise

"Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome."
Samuel Johnson

My mother always said "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

I find the words of Dorothy Parker a bit more to my mood today "if you can't say anything nice, come sit next to me."

Ah, what a day. Being in community is the most difficult thing I've ever done. I often consider packing up my (considerable) bags and heading for the hills, or at least Bainbridge Island. But then the latest DR group photo flashes up on my screen saver and I remember all of the people I do like. And my dog wags his tail,

and the cat plops into my lap,

and friends drop by, and all the good stuff falls into place. Sigh.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Octopus Brain vs. Hamster Brain

Amy, who is going to manage the Milkweed Mercantile B&B, is also the Mercantile's graphic designer. We have a lot of meetings. At least we call them meetings. Sometimes our meetings are just an excuse to compare notes on Ecovillage life and our former camp counselors who are now psychics.

Meeting with Amy is anything but boring. Not only is she the most enthusiastic person around, she fills my world with new and interesting phrases. Take the concept of Octopus Brain for instance. Knowing that I am juggling the launch of not one, not two, but five new businesses (the B&B, the Cafe, the Store, the online store, and the Mercantile Artisan Coop) and watching me work my way through The Wall Street Journal, the PAII newsletter, Kitchenware News, Plenty Magazine and Saveur, and then talk with a sales rep from Pedro's (a very cool company making non-petroleum bike lube), she commented that I clearly had an Octupus Brain in order to handle it all without my head exploding (kind of like in the movie Scanners).

She said that she herself was suffering from Hamster Brain, which I think has something to do with running around and around on a little wheel.

Here are two of my recent favorite Amy-isms:
In a planning meeting for the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage retreat, we were trying to figure out just how much uproar would be created by bringing up a certain topic. Amy summed it all up by asking "is it a can of worms or a dumpster of anacondas?" Brilliant!
My other favorite is her insistence that "all donuts are vegan." She is made of what she calls a "certain flexible moral fiber," enabling her to breeze through life with a minimum of angst. Actually, that's not true. She's filled with angst. Fortunately it is all good-humored angst. The future guests of the Milkweed Mercantile are in for a treat when they meet Amy, Innkeeper Extraordinaire!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Oy, vey, Mondays!

As Kurt is fond of saying, if it's not one thing, it's two things. And by golly, two is where I'd like to stop, thank you very much!

Today is a balmy 12 degrees, and Kurt thought that the problems he was having with his computer were related to, oh, I don't know, icicles forming on the hard drive. But when it began making all kinds of noises, we knew there was trouble. Off he headed, computer in hand, to Skyhouse, land of Computer Geeks. (May I just pause to say how much I love and am grateful for Computer Geeks?).

When Kurt returned, we were standing in our kitchen. As he was telling me that his hard drive was indeed dead as a doornail, we began hearing a most peculiar noise. This was not Kurt's computer. It sounded like water pouring somewhere, which we've learned is never a good thing unless you are laying in the sun next to a waterfall on Maui.

We dashed into Kurt's office and watched gallons of water cascading from the ceiling. The only ceiling in the house, I might add, which has been completely sheet rocked, sanded, and painted. I dashed upstairs, thinking that somehow we'd sprung a leak in our roof (I don't know about you, but I don't always think clearly when water is pouring onto my furniture) but it was dry as a bone. Kurt ran to turn off the water pressure, grabbed some buckets, and then we moved the new sofa bed that was soaking up most of the water.
Kurt is now upstairs ripping up the flooring in our bedroom, which is directly above his office, trying to find the source of the leak. He is a bit like Nancy Drew, only without the red convertible. Of course the leak wasn't where he originally suspected, so our reclaimed lumber floor is aquiring a little more character. Here is a shot after the first cut. You see where he's kneeling? That is all now sliced with the saw and pulled up. On an eco-educational note, you can see the insulation we've used - it's that really fabulous recycled denim stuff that comes in a roll. It is a pleasure to touch, and guess what? It really absorbs water. Sigh.

We realize now that by closing the office door to keep the rest of the house warmer we were slowly freezing the pipes. The insulation was installed on top of the pipes, which insulated them from the warmth of the upstairs and left them exposed to the cold coming up from the office. OK. We've learned that lesson. We are humbled, and chastened. We hope to not learn any more lessons in the next few weeks. Keep your fingers crossed!

Bye Bye Maya
I am sad to report that we have lost one of our most faithful and charming canine friends. Maya, loyal companion to Tamar for many years, passed away last week. Known for her incredibly soft beige fur, loads of charm and the ability to con anyone out of a snack, she is sorely missed. Nicknamed “the Princess,” she spent many afternoons napping on a second dog bed we installed in our house just for her.

This is Maya, relaxing on our stair landing which is right above our kitchen. Just before I took this shot, she was standing and wagging expectantly, as if secretly hoping that I would trip and fall and spill dinner all over the floor, and require her assistance in cleaning up!

I always loved her ears best – they were big and pointy and reminded me of the Sister Bertrille character played by Sally Field in the 70’s TV show The Flying Nun. Just a long way of saying that I miss Maya and her ears. Our sympathy goes out to Tamar, whose thoughtful and tender care bought Maya many extra years.

Sally Field as the Flying Nun. See the similarity?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday homage - Robert Shetterly

Robert Shetterly is a painter. He is working on a series of portraits called Americans Who Tell the Truth. Simply put, they are stunning. To each portrait he adds a quote from the subject. And often, "them's fightin' words."

Some of his subjects I am well acquainted with - Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, Walt Whitman, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Molly Ivins.

Others I have heard of but do not know much about, leading me to learn and grow - Rachel Corrie, Tilly Woodward, Grace Lee Boggs, Denise Giardina.

And still others are my heroes, people who do and say the things that I am not able, who are articulate and brave and are doing things that make a difference - Van Jones, Terry Tempest Williams, Bill McKibben, Amy Goodman.

"The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity.
Even a dead fish can go with the flow.”

Jim Hightower

"The international media and our government
are not going to tell us that we are effective,
important, justified in our work, courageous, intelligent, valuable. We have to do that for each other, and one way we can do that is by continuing our work, visibly.
People without privilege will be doing this work
no matter what, because they are working
for their lives. We can work with them, and they know
that we work with them, or we can leave them to do
this work themselves and curse us for our complicity in killing them."
Rachel Corrie

"Dr. King didn't get famous giving a speech that said,"I have a complaint."
It's time for us to start dreaming again and invite the country to dream with us.
We don't have any "throw away" species, nations, or children. We must birth a global green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty."
Van Jones
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Eleanor Roosevelt
Robert Shetterly is also a writer who can pierce my heart and make me think in ways I never have before. He fearlessly speaks truth to power, encouraging us to do what is right, n
ot necessarily what is easy. The following is from the journal on his website:
"When Arthur Miller said, “I think … the job of the artist is to remind people of what they have chosen to forget,” he was not suggesting that people have forgotten how to be willing cogs in the economic machine, he was saying that those willing cogs have forgotten their essential humanity as they compromised their lives away, in fact, become participants in a great exploitation of humanity for the benefit of business.

There is no true art without truth. So, the first obligation of the artist is honesty, witnessing for the truth. Witnessing for the truth is subversive because it must strip away the masks of hypocrisy. We also all know that when we have serious problems, we can’t fix them if we don’t face the truth about what they are. If the problem is global warming, installing heavy duty windshield wipers to wipe away the heavy duty rain won’t help because the
problem is in the brakes, there are no brakes on the system which is driving the problem.

It’s the obligation of the artist to air out our minds & hearts, to throw open the windows & doors of a self-satisfied society whose economic engine runs on exploitation and collateral damage, to show us what’s gnawing in the walls, swaying the roof, and grinding away under the floorboards. I know, some of you are thinking, but what about Matisse, don’t we all need Matisse? Of course we do, but not when blood is dripping from the ceiling onto his old easy chair. Not when the house is on fire.

As artists we must reject the creative economy in favor of the sustainable and creative society. We embrace the creative society because it makes its allegiance with a just economy and a humane community.

The obligation of the artist in times like these is to explore, to report, to reject cant, to spit out the artificial sweeteners in ourcommercial, suicidal brew. We honor explorers because they are courageous. William Sloane Coffin said there are no other virtues without courage. So we honor the artists who have the courage to tell us the truth. For this is what Keats meant about truth and beauty, they can not be separated. And if compassion and justice are virtues ( and beautiful), they will not exist if there is not courage to demand them. Without that courage we will not survive --- either individually of collectively...

Of course, we should teach composition by studying Caravaggio, and teach color by copying Matisse. But we should also teach Goya’s Disasters of War, how composition and chiaroscuro make the statement emphatic, and how the music of his lines elevates depiction of the most depraved of behavior to the level of art and moral denunciation, how having the courage to contemplate the most repugnant of human activity allows us to know ourselves at the deepest level. Sometimes if artists don’t bear witness, no one does."

So here's to Robert Shetterly. By doing what he is passionate about and embracing the artist in others, he helps me to be a better artist and, fingers crossed, a better person. I hope that you, too, will be inspired by his work, and the work of his subjects. Happy Sunday.