Currently (August edition)

Currently…

Loving| These rules on writing well, from Zadie Smith

Working| On my dissertation proposal. One more week before it’s due!

Baking| This strawberry rhubarb pie, which tastes of summer and was so simple to bake!

Hoping| to make a trip here before the weather turns cold (my favorite hike is Black Balsam Knob up through Shining Rock). Bonus points if there are still wild blueberries when we make the trip!

Wearing| these favorite sandals, every single day (mine are two-tone, and no longer for sale)

Weathering| another round of job interviews. So grateful for the opportunities, but so stressful all the same! Almost done. 

De-stressing| With this new favorite (honey lavender!) tea. I got it at our local grocer, and it’s THE BEST. 

Waiting| for Josh to come home from another trip to Asheville. Wish I could have gone with him!

Listening| to the Magnetic Fields, as ever. The Book of Love in particular. One of my favorite love songs of all time. 

Reading| Adhaf Soueif’s gorgeous novel, The Map of Love. I’m sensing a theme here. Set in Egypt, a set of nested love stories, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. I recommend, even though I haven’t finished it yet. The ending with this one feels sort of inevitable. 

Happy Friday, friends. Enjoy it!

Book Review: No Impact Man

I’ve wanted to read this book ever since I saw the documentary, which made me laugh and fear for our environmental future in equal measure.

I’m not sure what I expected from the book. I knew that Beavan and his family spent a year trying not to generate waste, use fossil fuels, or buy new products. I was also well aware that Colin Beavan’s No Impact experiment was excoriated by the New York Times, which wrote

Living abstemiously on Lower Fifth Avenue, in what used to be Edith Wharton country, with early-21st-century accouterments like creamy, calf-high Chloe boots, may seem at best like a scene from an old-fashioned situation comedy and, at worst, an ethically murky exercise in self-promotion.

Beavan, author Penelope Green concludes, is a shameless self-promoter more interested in benefitting himself than the environment. A self-aggrandizing poseur. Takes one to know one, as my Grandma Becca relished saying, regarding the name-calling we grandchildren engaged in. Beavan alleges that all writers are megalomaniacs. Green certainly portrays Beavan this way. But I think there is something genuine and compelling about his experiment. His No Impact year took place from 2006 to 2007, but the project continues through his book, documentary, and blog. Here is what I found redeeming about Beavan’s experiment:

  • he maintained a sense of humor about himself.
  • he set an extreme and measurable goal (no negative environmental impact by the end of one year), and stood firm even when he was ridiculed for it.
  • he was bracingly honest about his cheats, his failings, his own misgivings
  • his wife was along for the ride, talking sense to him when he got carried away (Beavan’s wife, Michelle Conlin, is the best part of the documentary. She’s game for the experiment, for the most part, but never misses a chance to call him out and keep him honest).
  • he provided some real suggestions about ways to reduce our own environmental impact. I have no intention of giving up toilet paper or electricity, true, but I did try going for a semester with no car after watching the documentary. I have taken many of the leaps I find most reasonable, such as composting, getting most of our food from the farmer’s market, and buying my clothes secondhand.
  • He wrote not only about planetary health but about emotional health, and how this experiment ultimately helped his family live happier, healthier lives.

Project Minify sometimes feels to me like it falls woefully short of the mark. I set a soft goal – live smaller and happier, give up the things I didn’t need, the ones that weren’t contributing to my happiness or wellbeing anyway. Yet those small steps have had some big impacts, on our waistlines, our household carbon footprint, and yes, our happiness. I’m just about due for a year-in-review post about how all of that has worked out for us. That’ll happen by August. I feel comfortable saying at this time that I’m not convinced that you have to give up elevators, toilet paper or balsamic vinegar in order to change the world. I’m not going to ridicule Beavan for doing so, either. He found a way to make a living by benefitting rather than harming the environment. That’s not shameless self promotion. That’s the kind of work a lot of us would love to be doing!

Life…unplugged

There is a Mary Oliver poem that asks

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

 

It’s an important question, and one that I sometimes forget to ask. Lately, I’ve been thinking that I let too much of my one life pass me by unnoticed while I’m sitting in front of a screen. Tammy Strobel at Rowdy Kittens has several great posts about taking a digital sabbatical. I hadn’t noticed, until I read her post, how much of my day screen time eats up. My husband and I don’t have cable, or watch TV. But we do have Netflix for movies, we own a computer each, and then there’s the Wii we got for Christmas last year:

Beyond all that, there are the temptations of e-mail and facebook, and of course this blog, which I invest a good bit of time into. I read other people’s blogs, too…all the ones on my blogroll. Much of my schoolwork happens in front of my laptop, and my classes include a fair number of powerpoint and video presentations. Long story short?

A lot of my life takes place in front of a screen. What would I do, I’ve been wondering lately, with an unplugged weekend? Would it be very different from my usual weekend routine?

This weekend I decided to find out. I took a whole weekend off, not only from my blog and the internet, but also from schoolwork or movies. I checked my e-mail a couple of times, and we had Pandora playing in the background while we were cooking today, but that was just about it until I sat down to write this post, well into Sunday evening. Here’s what I did this weekend instead of sitting in front of a screen:

  • I spent Friday afternoon volunteering on campus for my department’s interview day, and the evening downtown with some of my own soon-to-graduate classmates, celebrating the successful event.
  • On Saturday, I went to the roller derby for the first with my husband and our friends – we saw the Carolina Rollergirls win a homegame! It’s something I would never have thought to do, by my friend Sarah wanted us to check it out with her, and I really enjoyed it!
  • We went out for dinner and margaritas at our favorite Mexican restaurant, where I had the best potato and cheese enchilada of my life.
  • We played a closely contested game of Scrabble…and I won! Also learned the hard way, by challenging it, that “li” is in fact an accepted word in the Official Scrabble dictionary. Check out our extra fancy customized Scrabble board:

(To make one of your own, use a letter tile to trace squares on images from magazines, playing cards, albums, etc. Cut the squares out and affix them with Mod Podge to all of the blank squares on your Scrabble board. That’s all there is to it!)

  • Last night I finished reading a book – and I mean real fiction, not homework! It was Andrea Levy’s Small Island, about WWII-era Britain and Jamaica, and I enjoyed it tremendously.
  • My husband and I cleaned the house and gave our dog a bath. He’s nice and clean, and so are our kitchen and laundry for the upcoming week!
  • Today I walked to the grocery store instead of driving – all this free time and the beautiful weather inspired me.
  • This afternoon, I baked cupcakes with my friend Emily – we made mocha cupcakes with coffee icing. They’re cooling now, and they smell DELICIOUS.

  • Tonight, we’re grilling portabella mushrooms on the back deck. We had to take advantage of the unseasonably warm February evening, and of getting to spend another evening with our friends. Some of these friendships have lasted nearly a decade, through college and sharing a house and moving out to get married, and even moving across the state together for graduate school. I love them dearly, and spending this weekend with them has been the greatest part of the digital sabbatical.

While we wait for the grill to heat up, we’re all plugged back in – Emily is doing homework on one computer, I’m writing on the other, and the guys are having a tennis tournament on the Wii Fit. I’m glad to be working on my blog, because I love writing, and it’s something I tend to do on the weekends, when I have more free time. But I’m more aware now that we’re all looking at screens instead of at one another, and the only conversation taking place is the guys yelling over their hard fought tennis game. This is indeed our one wild and precious life – I’m glad we spent the better part of this weekend, at least, tuned in to each other instead of the TV or the internet.

Technology can be hugely beneficial. I can skype with my best friend in Romania and talk for an hour, free of charge. I can sit in on lectures by experts across the country, or half a world away. As much good as technology brings into my life, though, the break from it was lovely enough that I’m planning on taking another one soon. Maybe next time I’ll even read some more Mary Oliver:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

 

And you? What will you do with a weekend unplugged, to savor your own wild and precious life?