(image: a collaboration between myself, my son, and the rain)
today my head is full of dreams of ocean views, sitting lazily on a beach, eating summer produce (corn and strawberries), being near family again, sleeping with an ocean breeze and being near the deep woods (and the incredible green smells that come with that).
i have had some challenging weeks (months) lately and I am ready to be in a place that speaks to my heart more. what is it about change that makes it so nerve wracking? I suppose it is a lack of trust in our own ability to survive and thrive in a new place. I don’t know what it will feel like, what if I lose my center for a time? what if I find myself floundering?
what I learned about traveling from my husband is that even if you went on an adventure and forgot all of your stuff (or had some crazy, unexpected experiences), you would be okay. you would deal with it all in the moment and come up with new and creative ways to exist. human beings are beautiful in this way. we can adapt to whatever arises, and we like to think we can control everything ahead of time. it is only an illusion, but one we become very addicted to. we become very attached to things as our way of making us feel like ourselves.
I think this is why I have become so interested in using indeterminacy and chance in my work of late. by throwing myself into the unknown on purpose on a daily basis (using mediums that give you little or no control over the outcome) you develop an understanding that you will be able to work with whatever comes up. that every experience is an opportunity for a greater acceptance and you must let go of the idea that your actions can be deemed “right” or “wrong”. how interesting to be able to see so called “mistakes” in a new light. in fact they too are just an illusion.
John Cage writes, “What I really believe, is made perfectly clear by my actions. Since a mistake is beside the point, an error is simply a failure to adjust immediately from a conception to actuality.”
in other words, what we predict in our heads is usually much different than what actually occurs. but that prediction was only based on our own assumptions and ideas about how we think things should be. not based in what the universe has in store for us. the trick then, is in learning to sit with whatever comes up and trust in our abilities to respond to our needs. whatever the challenges may be, there is always another way of seeing them.
“Disorder is merely the order you were not looking for.” ~Henri Bergson
(p.s. my new book is coming out soon, and deals with exactly this subject matter. it’s interesting to me that I am being given more life experiences right now in which I can apply my own “messy” philosophy. if you respond to this post I think you are going to like it a lot.)
There is a feature article about me in the June/July issue of Family Fun Magazine! (This was a lot of fun to do and they even came to my house to do a photo shoot.)
You can read the web version (without illos and photos) here:
Inspired by Keri Smith the Artist of the Everyday
(illo above from the article, depicts the “dicewalk” exercise)
Portland Cottage Heaven: The Mississippi District
It is challenging finding a place to live in Vancouver (especially when you have a dog and a two year old). If you have any leads please write. (we need a fenced yard).
here is what I have been sending out:
I am an author and illustrator who has just received a teaching position at Emily Carr University. I am looking for a place for me, my husband and my two year old son, and our 5 year old deaf australian shepherd (we currently live in upstate new york but I am Canadian). Our dog is very well behaved and extremely friendly. My husband is a documentary filmmaker and composer who has just finished doing his graduate work. We are very friendly, quiet and conscientious people who are are looking to live in a family oriented, forward thinking, healthy environment. Our main interests are family, art, cooking, cycling and reading. Because our son is so small I would prefer a very quiet street where there is not an excess of road traffic. We would also like a good relationship with the landlord if possible.
“There is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing.”
— John Cage
Once I begin the process of the trying to let go of something, I find myself wanting to cling to it, craving comfort and familiarity. We put our house up for sale this week and at this point I feel heartbroken by it. We put a lot of love into this place, which is what we do as a family no matter where we live, it is our nature. And yet, I know it is just a house. Just a structure, that without us does not have the same life. It is what we have brought to it that gives it meaning. There will be others. And I tell myself over and over again that I do know for sure that this is not where I want my son to grow up. I have been trying to make it into what I have wanted for a few years, and it will never be that. We have known for a long time that we would move on. It is time to clear out the old to make way for some new and different experiences.
I think it is just that old “fear of change” creeping in. Some days it’s grip on me is all consuming. I want to be in that new place already and know that it is also fulfilling and comforting. I want to know that I can exist and flourish there too. But right now it is just a vague image in my head, which is never really close to what actually occurs. And as I have learned in the past it is silly to think that I can impact and control what it will be (though my ego tells me otherwise).
It is not for me to do.
I think my fearful mood is exacerbated by the fact that I am having some minor trouble with my eye still. It is healing beautifully but there is a slight pulling on my lower lid causing my eye to become dry and tired easily. I have been instructed to massage it regularly to “loosen” it up. But it looks like I am going to be going back for a bit more surgery to release the tension.
Just another experience that is helping me to practice “letting go”. Which reminds me of another thing John Cage used to say:
“Your life is your practice.”
Ain’t that the truth. Everything you need to learn usually at the time you most need to learn it.
and emerged relatively unscathed.
Everything went the best it possibly could, I had minimal cutting (one layer instead of four, based on the fact that the cancer cells had not extended into deeper tissue). The plastic surgeon only had to do a few stitches to close it up, (this is nothing to what they told me I might have to go through). Whew! It was pretty nerve wracking, I was at the doctor’s all day Thursday and at the plastic surgeon’s until 8 that night. I actually walked 14 blocks to the apt. in the east village with one eye. That was a wild experience and rather challenging as it’s a bit disorienting and New York City is crazy.
Here is what I avoided followed by what actually occurred (six tiny stitches). The red indicates cutting and sewing.
Now I just have to have it checked every few months to make sure the cancerous cells do not return.
I am SOOOOO glad to be done. We are home again and I am just taking it easy today. it’ll take some time for the whole thing to fall off my body.
Thank you so much for all of the wonderful letters and well wishes you have sent. I wish I could reply to every one, but I need to rest for a time.
We are staying on the lower east side, in Alphabet City. Some good friends of our offered us their apartment for as long as we need it, a truly beautiful gift (I have angels everywhere). It was cold and drizzly today, not great for wandering the streets of New York. But we made the best of it and ducked into a new bookstore (I overheard they had been open for two days). It was a perfect bookstore, tiny, but the shelves full of all of my favorite books (used)! Every shelf held volumes full of imaginary worlds that I have lived in at one time or another. I picked up a dog eared copy of “Joe Gould’s Secret” by Mitchell, which I’ve been wanting to read for a few years now. The perfect book for being in this city.
We walked about eight blocks and had dinner at Angelica’s Kitchen. I’ve been wanting to eat there for many years as I used to sell her cookbooks when I worked at Nicholas Hoare. What a cozy little spot, that was not too fancy for our little guy, (it can be challenging in the city to find places that accommodate or even welcome little children). A soothing meal of soba noodles and broth, was just perfect and soothed my hungry but slightly nervous belly.
After dinner we wandered through the neighborhood peering into dozens of cute little shops. Street after street of magical places that could only exist here in a city that offers you anything and everything you could ever want. One shop window was full of eclectic antique ephemera, the door of which displayed a large propeller. A pizza place with massive wheels of parmesan displayed. A cafe that only sells mac and cheese. Beautiful vintage dresses. I stopped in front of an herbalist shop and ran in to get some chamomile. I emerged with a small stapled paper bag, which I happily carried home so I could have some tea. Past Tomkins Square Park. Past rows of flowers for sale. Past tiny cozy restaurants with lit candles on all the tables.
The sounds of this city can be jarring at first, it takes a few days to acclimatize. Right now I can hear traffic sounds, and a conversation held by two women sitting on the patio of a restaurant across the street. Clinking glasses. Horns, always horns. Sirens. Bike brakes screeching. A cell phone beeping. You have to learn to embrace the ambient noise here if you want to be able to function well. It is everywhere.
My husband and son are talking to each other in the bedroom recounting their day, a bedtime ritual. And here I sit recounting mine.
Tomorrow will bring something else.
This too shall pass as everything does.
and I have a lot to look forward to.
a series of bureaucratic mishaps has caused my surgery to be postponed until Thursday at 1pm. So I am at home now, just waiting it out. you can’t believe what a crazy morning it has been. we found out about the scheduling issues when we were halfway to the city, (it’s a three hour drive). it took ten phone calls to various offices to correct the mistakes. I will have to climb the same emotional mountain all over again in two days.
i really need a nap now, but son is refusing his today.
send me some restful thoughts.
And so my family and I are entering into a period of transformation. Moving to the west coast is part of a plan that we’ve been talking about for years. We have been actively researching ways to live a sustainable, wholistic existence. As a couple we already exist sort of on the fringe of society, with regards to our taste in movies, authors, food, clothing etc. We don’t own a t.v. so consequently we do not partake in any of the culture surrounding that. We try to buy only from companies that we believe in. We try to buy mostly local food. We recycle and compost (though we had a little incident with some rats which has curtailed that a bit). We try to limit unnecessary packaging. We have decided to not buy anything that cannot be recycled in the future. And yet there are many ways in which we feel we could do a LOT better. But in order to accomplish those bigger things, there will have to be some major changes in our lifestyle.
And we ask ourselves, “if WE don’t do it, then who is going to?” How can we claim to be defenders of the environment if we are not willing to do the big things, (like give up the car)?
To our defense, we moved to upstate New York a few years ago so my husband could go to graduate school, but since he finished we have been living in a state of suspended motion. When you have a child it’s inevitable that some bigger questions come into play. What kind of environment do we want him to grow up in? What kind of lifestyle do we want to embody for him and for us? We have done pretty well with what we have, but there are still many areas that make it challenging (namely, the town we are in currently is not walkable. we must drive to run errands making us car dependent). The local grocery store has made a few positive changes in the last few years, but is still behind on many things (mainly overuse of packaging).
As many of you already know, the quest for sustainability is a rather complicated one. As soon as you decide what the right thing is (buying a hybrid car), you find out that there are many negatives with it (production of cars is a big negative on the planet’s footprint). The whole process is so incredibly confusing that it will make your head spin. As someone who wants to “do their best” it starts to feel quite overwhelming. To help myself out I have been reading the “Toolbox for Sustainable City Living” by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew, which has helped clarify a few things. Particularly in the area of “green consumerism”, about which they have this to say:
“Green consumerism encourages consumption of a different variety. It does nothing to challenge the patterns of over-consumption and excess that have created the environmental crisis. Green consumerism only reinforces the destructive capitalist paradigm while giving people a dangerously false sense that real change is being made. Capitalism, natural or not, requires infinite expansion and consumption of material resources. In a world that is fragile and finite, such a system is inherently unsustainable. Any “sustainable” solution that fails to take this into account will not address the fundamental cause of planetary and human degradation.” *
While this perspective may seem extreme to some, for me it means that if we are going to “walk the walk” it is important to think consciously about all of the ways we “consume” and if we need to purchase something how can we think differently about it? Not just “is it green?” Can we find something that already exists in the world, instead of always buying the new? Can it be recycled in the future, (cradle to cradle)? Can it be reused? Is it something that can be repaired? Can I make it myself?
Another issue that we have dealt with is, “doesn’t the whole society have to change for it to impact the planet for the better? what’s the point of putting so much energy into using less when most of north american culture doesn’t give a shit?” (In upstate New York, you can get pretty discouraged about the lack of care for the environment. SUV’s and waste galore). What do we do when our individual actions feel insignificant in the context of the planet? I will let Anna Lappé (daughter of Frances Moore Lappé) give a response to that:
“When I have a sense of futility from feeling insignificant, a metaphor comes to mind that my mother and I talked about one night when we were trapped in a hotel room in Seattle with the rain pouring down. We sometimes fell as though we’re just a drop in the bucket, right? As we were talking about that sensation of futility, of feeling like a drop in the bucket, all of a sudden I said: “Wait a second. You know, here in Seattle if we were to put a bucket out right now, it would be filled probably within the hour.” And so I think it’s less that we feel like a drop in a bucket and more that we feel like a drop in the Sahara because the drop is dissipating before it even touches the ground. If you conceptualize your individual action as a drop in a bucket, that means your drop is adding to all the others. You have no idea if yours is the first drop, the mid drop, or the last drop before the water will go over the edge. So when I get into that mindset of “Oh, anything I do is so small, so futile, ” I remind myself of that bucket.
-excerpted from “Eat the Sky: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork” a lecture for the E.F. Schumacher Society by Anna Lappé
So here is the argument we have based our current thoughts on. There are some things that we know for sure, we must use less energy, we must eliminate our dependence on oil, we must create less waste, we can make many choices that can lessen our impact. The bottom line is, “I need to FEEL like I am doing the best job that I can.” And right now that means going a LOT further. For me, using green light bulbs and shopping locally is not enough. And as we said before, “If WE don’t do it, then how can we expect others to do it too.”
In the last few weeks I have been thinking a lot about my Nana who partly raised my sister and I. She was from Newfoundland and all of these practices I look to now were just a way of life for her. It was not just due to living through the depression, it was based in living in a place that had limited resources so every material was consider valuable and multipurpose. Pieces of old clothing were made into hooked rugs, every last fabric scrap was repurposed into something else, ever paper scrap, every tin can. In her way of looking at the world, the act of buying something new was a radical act (in contrast to today where the act of not purchasing has become radical.) How can we alter our habitual ways of thinking about buying (that it must be new, that “disposable” is okay, that someone else can deal with the waste)?
And so we have created a plan. To be completely implemented in the next couple of years. Our main goal to have a family oriented, sustainable lifestyle seems very possible. Moving to Vancouver B.C. is the first step as it seems to have all of the things we are looking for, (forward thinking, socialized healthcare, nature on a grand scale, a good public school system, plenty of local food, a walkable existence). Sadly, one of the things it lacks is affordable housing, so we would be back to renting again, but this is a tradeoff we are willing to make when we look at the benefits. Right now we are paying $600 a month on healthcare premiums with a $10,000.00 deductible for the family, that is all I could get being a self-employed person in New York State, (the new healthcare reform will sadly not impact this at all). Public schools in much of the US are in a state of crisis, so if we chose to stay here in a few years we would have to pay for private school ($8000 a year, and up to $12000 to $20000 when our son is older), or pursue homeschooling which I would only consider if there was a large homeschooling community (i.e. socialization).
In doing my research, (which is still ongoing), I have been amazed and saddened that it *seems* impossible to find “lower impact” housing in an urban environment (unless you are rich). There are many people out there hoping to change this for the future, but we already have the technology, why aren’t there more places in development now? Europe has been doing much more of this for years. We just need people who are willing. We need to encourage and persuade infrastructure to be more accepting of greener practices. In truth, we need to put the environment *before* the need to make money. This is the biggest deterrent to change.
I know none of this is news to you. But I for one, am ready to do it differently for myself and my family. It’s time to stop talking about it and act. I am ready. A bit nervous, but ready. I know it is impossible to do it perfectly, that is not my goal. But every change we do make is another “drop in the bucket”.
If you are interested, here is the ongoing and ‘open to change’ plan:
*note: I am about halfway through this book and while I am very inspired with the grassroots creation of self sustainable items (bike part windmill, wetland to filter wastewater), I find many of the ideas completely impractical for people who are renting. Surely there must be ways to be sustainable in the city without having to break the law? (i.e. outdoor composting toilet that they recommend you use “covertly” so as not to alert the authorities? The image of this makes me laugh quite a bit. I picture a person waving to neighbors while carrying a rake and whistling nervously as he goes out back to the “toolshed”.
I have just started reading “Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture” by Shannon Hayes. It is fantastic so far, though less of a ‘hand on’ kind of book and more of a social history. It includes interviews with a wide swath of radical homemakers, people who have shunned the status quo and chosen alternative lifestyles based on their own belief systems and needs. I am learning that people make different choices based on their individual needs (it is not always about growing your own food, some people may be better at repairing goods, or bartering).
I am also loving Gayla Trail’s new book “Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces”. It has a lot of great ideas that were new to me (growing tomatoes upside down in a bucket).
p.s. I am off to the NYC tomorrow for further surgery on my eye. A few of you have asked for the date so you can send me good energy or do something ceremonial. It is Tuesday the 11th at 10 am. I may be there all day as they don’t know at this point how intensive it is going to be. Needless to say I am a bit on edge right now. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Long time readers will know that I have written here about considering teaching for a couple of years now. I think I recently quoted Derrick Jensen here, where he talks about once you learn to follow your heart then the most moral and revolutionary thing to do is to help others find theirs. And so I have just accepted a teaching position at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver B.C.!!!
Long time readers will also know that I am a huge fan of Emily Carr the person, so being able to teach at her namesake school is a dream come true. Not to mention that Vancouver is one of the best places to live in the world! I can’t believe it myself. you can see some great photos of my new school and the neighborhood (Granville Island) here.
There is a lot to go through/get through before we leave, it’s a bit overwhelming, we’re just taking it day by day. Namely, eye surgery, selling the house here, packing and moving stuff to my inlaws for the time being, finding a place to live in Vancouver and lots more, (all with an energetic two year old in tow).
If you live in Vancouver and have any leads on a great place to live please let me know. We are in need of a small yard as we have a deaf australian shepherd. I am currently looking in the Kitsilano area, Trout Lake, Cambie, etc. as I’d like to be able to ride my bike to school.
Vancouver here we come!!!!
p.s. Several people have written asking if I could open the comments so people could easily send well wishes and offer support as I go through my health stuff. I would love to but the are currently broken. I am working on getting a new site up in the very near future so stay tuned for that (I will have comments then on selected posts).