Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blissful Break

I have been having a great week! It has rained for days. No sign of the sun, plenty of fog, cooler temperatures, and generally grey skies--I love it! i still drip in the morning a little, but my face does not hurt; my sinuses are not clogged; and I feel wonderful! I know it won't last forever, but I will enjoy this little respite while I can!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Why I Hate Summer

I was reminded again this morning about why I hate summer--and spring. I woke up this morning at 5:45--over an hour before my body's clock wants me to wake up. I could not get back to sleep. This kind of thing throws my whole day off. It's not surprising--this happens to me every year. I dread moving the clocks forward an hour in the spring because I know what's coming. I will spend months waking up too early and feeling tired all day until later on at night when I will finally feel awake. I have always been a night owl by nature. I am not interested in being the early bird catching the worm. I have a worm bin, so if I really want a worm, I know where to find it. I would rather sleep until 7 or 7:30, thanks all the same. It does no good for me to try to compensate for this earlier rising time by going to bed earlier. I don't usually sleep well before midnight. Better if I am going to bed at 12:30 or 1.

It is warm enough now that we need to have a couple of windows open or it gets too stuffy in here. This morning I sat in the living room sipping my morning coffee and listening to a guy across the street cutting down shrubs with a chainsaw before 9 o'clock. Cars and motorcycles were roaring down the road with their windows open, often with music blasting into the air. Soon there will be lawn mowers and grass pollen making my throat burn. Already I have to stuff a tissue up my nose upon waking so I don't drip all over the place. My sinuses are alternately scratchy and congested. My lungs are filling; I am coughing; and my throat often burns.

It is so bright! That sun drives me crazy. I will admit, Maine is much, much better than Klamath Falls. There the sun was always blinding you and beating down mercilessly. The sky was always this bright blue color and that awful glare was a nightmare. Here the sunlight isn't quite so intense; the sky usually has some clouds to break up the monotony; and there is a mix of weather. I don't care for the humidity here in the summer, but I have only been here for one summer and everyone says that was unusually bad. We'll see.

I hate being hot--which for me happens when the temperature goes above 65. I prefer it in the lower-mid-40s or lower. I think my ideal day is one where the temperature is in the low 40s and there is fog and mist in the air. That doesn't happen in the summer. I cannot stand that crummy sweaty feeling that I know will be with me until sometime in the fall. There is that heavenly moment near the end of a summer day when I can take a shower and then sit in front of a fan and actually feel clean for 5 or 10 minutes. At least it's something.

The bottom line is that while fall and winter allow me to feel peaceful and cozy, everything about summer makes me agitated. I like it cool. I like the dark. I like being able to breathe. I like peace and quiet. Summer provides me with none of those things. People talk about the carefree days of summer and I wonder what the heck they are talking about. For me summer is an endless attempt to feel less yucky. It is too noisy, too bright, too hot, and too full of irritants of all kinds. I just hunker down, do what I can to minimize the pain, and wait for it to be over.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Structural Change

I just finished watching series 4 of The Good Life, a 1970s sitcom from BBC that aired in the US as Good Neighbors. The library system only had this last season of the show, so I requested that to see whether I would like it. I enjoyed it very much and so will probably purchase the set that contains series 1-3 at some point and then donate this to the library when I have watched it. It is about a these neighbors, both of whom were corporate suburban couples until one of the couples decides to drop out of the rat race and become self-sufficient. Some of it brought me back to my own corporate suburban 1970s childhood. Some of it was pretty laughable--like when they worked for a sheep farmer in exchange for fleeces which they spun (with a drop spindle), dyed with nettles, wove the yarn into cloth, and then sewed into a suit--presumably by hand, since the woman was always seen sewing by hand. This seemed to happen in a remarkably short period of time! All in all though, it was quite entertaining. At one point, though, it struck me how difficult (impossible?) it can be to be truly self-sufficient in a society where that is somehow held up as the ideal, but is structurally set up to make this very, very difficult. At some level, of course, none of us are self-sufficient, and indeed even in the show, they had to barter with other people to get their needs met. This has always been the case, I would venture to say, throughout human evolutionary history. Cooperation was a part of our evolutionary process and no one truly goes it alone. So, although we can strive to meet as many of our needs as possible on our own, we can't ever meet all of them. Still, having the knowledge to grow food, cook with what you have, and make do in creative ways with things you have just makes a lot of sense to me. When she cut up one of her husband's pullovers and made herself a tabard vest and leg warmers, I chuckled to myself. In the last episode she was wearing a patchwork shirt that looked like it had been cut out of other old shirts in different shapes and sewn together, seams outward. Now this is something I want to try myself. In any case, there are parts of this kind of lifestyle that not only do I find attractive, but that I actually do in my own life. There are limits--I know that unless I am doing container gardening, for example, I really don't care for it. So I will plant a few tomato plants in pots, but I have also joined a CSA and will support a local farm family that way. Brunswick happens to be a place where I can do that. In Fairbanks, we lived without running water for a couple of years. This was pretty painless, although it took organization and planning, because Fairbanks was set up for that kind of thing. There were places we could go to buy water and pump it into our containers. That's the thing--the system has to be set up in such a way to allow and even encourage people to make these kinds of changes in their lives. Clearly the system we have now does not work and millions of people know this and try to make positive changes in their own lives. This needs to happen because we need these individuals to turn into groups which will turn into larger groups that will eventually be large enough to force cultural, societal, and structural change. But these pioneers do have it a little harder--they are trying to build alternative lifestyles within a structure that is often not supportive and may in fact hinder them. So we all do what we can. One of the things I was happy to see in the show was the expression of the joy that such a life can bring. The more I have tossed aside all the trappings of a consumer lifestyle the happier I have been myself. There is little joy in shopping--I can think of few things more mind-numbingly boring. But there is satisfaction in taking a bunch of string, manipulating it with my crochet hook, and ending up with a pair of socks or a shirt. Bucking the system at any level requires creativity. I think we need as much of that as we can get.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A New Chapter

I am nearing the end of my first week of freedom from my job at a "sustainable goods" store. The owner is out of money and cannot pay for an almost full-time person anymore. I am fine with that, because I disliked the job a great deal and am glad to be done. It was quite an eye-opening experience. When I started I knew that I would be learning things, but as so often happens in life, the things I learned were not the things I thought I would learn. The part of the job that I enjoyed was the opportunity to have interesting conversations with some of the people who came into the store. Other than that, I mostly found what was doing to be a waste of my time and what I observed to be disturbing and somewhat depressing. There were generally two broad categories of people who would come into the store. Those who were there for a specific thing, like bulk earth/people-friendly cleaning supplies or wood finish for a certain project. They wanted to be greener for whatever reason. But they got what they needed and the things they bought were part of a larger commitment to simple living and lowering the footprint they were making on the earth. Then there were the people who bought things like plastic bag drying racks and stainless steel compost pails--the latter imported from China via Seattle, swathed in multiple layers of cardboard and plastic. Not quite a "sustainable good" but, as many people said, "Oooh, it's so pretty." Whether they bought one of these or not depended on the budget--they ran from $30-$50. What depressed me was the people who bought one to take back to their overly large home while thinking they were being radical because they compost. Don't get me wrong. Composting is great. It's a great thing to do. But it's one thing and not all that radical. And we are beyond the point, I think, when tinkering at the edges of this huge global problem of overcounsumption is going to solve things. I found myself feeling a bit yucky about being there after a while. I felt like I was simply helping people to keep on consuming too much stuff they don't really need. There were good things in the store, to be sure. I refilled used containers with soap, laundry detergent, and dish soap. I bought stainless steel travel mugs. Everyone has a different view of what is important to them, I know, but I became uncomfortable with the idea of selling wood finish that came to Maine from Germany via California, flooring from Scotland, and vermiculture set-ups that came from Australia while working for a guy that thinks everyone should give up their cars and not drive. Unless they are driving to his store from far away. Then it's OK. Just as it's quite fine to say that you are "saving the planet" while having stuff sent to your store from all far-flung corners of the globe burning fossil fuels every mile along the way. When the owner told me that his belief was that everyone could live in a 4000-square-foot house, as long as they did not burn any fossil fuels, I gave up trying to see where I would fit in there. The idea was so ridiculous to me that it suddenly became obvious in a way it had not been before that here was one of those people who want to say, "Sure, save the planet, but please do not disrupt my suburban, middle-class way of life. I will help by buying this pretty stainless steel compost pail." Good luck with all that. And the store? It will be closed by June at the latest.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Settling Into a New Year

Here we are in 2011. There's a new calendar on the fridge and symbolically it seems like there are new possibilities that perhaps didn't exist in the old year. I was thinking a great deal about years and settling and possibilities. I was thinking the other night as I was crocheting my way toward midnight that this is the first year in the last few when we were not planning to move in the new year. On New Year's Eve 2008, we knew we were going to leave Klamath Falls in 2009. We did that, but not at all in the way we had expected. It didn't turn out badly. Indeed it is hard to imagine how leaving Klamath Falls could possibly have been worse than living there. The most important thing was to get out and save ourselves, so the fact that it wasn't what we had planned doesn't matter much. New Year's Eve 2009 saw us sitting in Niagara Falls knowing we would have to leave there in a couple of months. I did not want to go and I knew I had to. This time I was smart enough not to have expectations beyond the ideas that we were leaving and when we did we would be heading east. Plenty of surprises were waiting for us even without expectations. After wandering around part of Maine for 6 weeks, settling in one apartment for 2 1/2 months, camping for 5 weeks, and staying with kind friends for 3 weeks, we ended up where we are now--still in Brunswick and planning to stay. we signed a lease. But that doesn't mean I feel settled. Oddly enough, I don't, really.
I realized that in the last decade I have not settled well. When I left Alaska, I figured we would be relatively mobile for a time as we did what we needed to do to get ourselves ready for our move to Ireland. Still, I had expected to find a place to settle temporarily. Instead I found myself completely unsettled in Klamath Falls for 5 years and two weeks while I watched myself fall into what seemed like a bottomless pit of severe depression. All I wanted to do, starting two weeks after I got there, was to get the hell out. Five years after that, I did, but settling in Niagara Falls, though I wanted to, proved to be impossible because of the pollution that was causing health problems for both of us. So I began my wandering once again, looking for a place to settle until it's time to go. I ended up in Brunswick. It's nice. I like it. I knew as soon as we got here that this is where we need to be right now. But I'm not settled. I am content. I am at peace. I am not settled. Part of this is simply that I know I am not going to be here for years and years. I hope that next year at this time we will be planning to move again. I know well enough that this may or may not be the case, and planning is one thing and actually proceeding is quite another, but we have to have goals in our lives and that's ours, even though we hold it lightly. I also think that there is something about where we are that makes it hard to settle in. I know someone who ran for the office of State Representative and he lost by less than 150 votes. I have had several people tell me he did well for a newcomer. He's been here for 6 or 7 years. To me that's not a newcomer, but I know from past experience that it takes a lot longer than that to get past newcomer status in a small town. So it's OK. I will leave here when I am still a newcomer. This place will probably end up living in my memories and life stories as a pleasant place where I could come and regroup after a year and a half on the road and 5 years and two weeks of bare-knuckled survival. I have met some great people. I am glad to be here and I know that when I go I will be glad to go--not because I dislike it here but because I will be excited about where I am going. So I will remain unsettled and content to be so. Happy 2011!