2014 was a year full of change, newness and exploration for me. I looked back over my posts on this site as well as my social media updates for the last 12 months, and here are some of the highlights:
I spent 25% of the year away from my home in the midwestern U.S., traveling ~50,000 miles around the world. Some of it was for my work and related conferences, some of it to visit friends and family, and some of it just to see new places for fun and education. Trips included:
I think that's the most travel I've done in a single year, ever. I wouldn't have previously included "world traveler" in how I identify myself so it's still a little strange to realize I'm doing it, but I'm enjoying it (and the perspective and knowledge it brings) greatly. I feel fortunate to have had these opportunities, and look forward to more of them in 2015.
I've generally been content not having a physical phone line at home and using my cell phone instead. I'm not much of a phone person anyway, my back yard looked a lot nicer when Verizon cut down the unsightly cable, and it's certainly a cost savings. But sometimes, I still long to have a regular old phone sitting on my desk that I can pick up and make a call on. Recently, for various reasons, I've been playing with having just that setup, but with a twist: my new home phone setup is run on open source software, and the conversations are carried over my broadband Internet connection.
Here's my configuration (perhaps mostly for geeks, but hopefully also for anyone who's interested):
One of my favorite magazines, and one of the only ones I subscribe to, is The Sun. It's an ad-free publication of interviews, short stories, poems, and reader-submitted material that tends to engage the human experience in really amazing ways. It's sort of a hidden treasure in the world of magazines - either people tend to love it, or have never heard of it. They have a section every month called "Readers Write," where they pick a theme and ask readers to submit personal stories and experiences that relate to that theme.
Almost every month, I see the list of themes and think about what I would write about. I start to compose the words in my head. And then I look at the submission deadline for that topic (usually just weeks away) and then at the publication target for accepted pieces (usually many months away), and I tell myself that I'll come back to it later to actually send something in.
I've been a subscriber of the Sun since 1999, and I have not yet gotten around to submitting anything to them. I'm not sure if it's because I can't experience the instant gratification of having my writing accepted (or rejected) like I can with a weblog. Or maybe it's because I still have such a hard time letting myself write about things that other people are writing about. Or maybe it's because I know I would be submitting something for someone else to judge or value, and I'm not confident or vulnerable enough. Or maybe it's pure laziness, apathy.
Whatever it is, it's a form of writer's block that seems ridiculous and intimidating to me, yet very important to overcome.
It was 30 years ago this month that I was born into the world. I celebrate the landbase that sustains me, my health, my successes and failures, my friends and loved ones, my past and future, the hope that drives me, and so much more.
And so here I am, in August of 2007. As E.B. White said, "I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day difficult."
A lot of people notice that in many settings, I'm a pretty quiet person. I don't mind telling them that I generally have an withdrawn personality, and that I tend to do better in conversations that are one-on-one or with small groups of people who I know, as opposed to large groups or gatherings of strangers. I notice that I can be very outgoing in situations where I have a clearly defined role to play - such as a talk I'm giving on a topic I feel knowledgeable about, or a party I'm hosting. But on the whole, I'm quiet.
It's important to me to distinguish this way of being from the classical definition of what it means to be an introvert, "a person who is more interested in his or her own self than in in other people." I know plenty of people who fit this definition well - they become so occupied with their inner existence and interests that they forget (or never learn) how to respond well to external stimuli, how to be sensitive to the physical and verbal signals given off by those around them, how to communicate well with others. While I understand and respect the ways that someone could manifest that personality, and while I see that they can find other ways to be brilliant communicators or express themselves magnificently, it's very important to me to be sensitive to and interested in the beings and happenings in the world around me, as much as I am in my own self.
So if I'm not a classic introvert, what am I? I think I'm just someone who prefers to be quiet in settings where quiet is not always the norm. I do this in part as a way of bearing witness to the many kinds of ways in which there is not enough quiet in our lives. Continue reading "Why I Am Quiet"→
On Saturday, February 24th, my cat Misty died after the cancer she had been struggling with had become too much for her to handle. It was a loving and peaceful death, and she was buried near one of her favorite spots in the yard.
Misty had a long life - upwards of 16 years - and was a wonderful companion throughout. I never thought of myself as a "cat person," but I inherited her from other family members and she grew on me. She didn't always have the warmest disposition when you encountered her at first - in recent years I think she had forgotten what her "nice meow" sounded like, so every entreaty or remark, even the happy ones, were done in the tone of a kitty with better places to be. But she made friends with strangers quickly, wasn't afraid to look a little silly in the name of effective and comprehensive play-time, and always knew when it was time to cuddle up. And bless her heart for tolerating my experimentation with various gadgets that were meant to make her more comfortable - the automatic litterbox cleaner, the battery-powered timer-based feeding contraption, the elaborate windowsill lounging surface structures. I think she sensed my good intentions all along, even if she didn't share my enthusiasm. 🙂
If you want, you can make a donation to 1-800-Save-A-Pet.com in honor of Misty - they help homeless pets all over North America to get adopted into loving homes like the one she had.
I remember back in the day (i.e. a few years ago), when you wanted to put video on your website, you needed to think about disk space, bandwidth, media format compatibility and a host of other issues before you could even hope to have people looking at the actual video content. Today, sites like YouTube and Google Video (soon to be one) make it as easy as uploading your video to their site and then linking to it. And as Jean Harper sort of noted (lamented, really), it's quite the craze with the kids.
During the Third U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions that I attended last month, I found myself surrounded by an amazing group of hundreds of people who were trying to make changes in the world to move us (the human species) toward sustainability. While I do not limit my thinking on sustainability to the slogan "be the change you want to see in the world" (article on that is forthcoming), I thought it might be useful to take an inventory of the things I'm doing in my own life to reduce my impact on the world and my resource usage in our culture. I also thought it would be important to start to list the areas where I still need to make progress.
I don't publish this information as any sort of prescription for anyone else; there are millions of ways to make changes in our lives to do less harm, and not all of them look anything like the below (and some of them contradict the below), so I fully respect that this is what works for me as I experiment, and it may not work for anyone else. There is no one right way to be more sustainable. However, if you find this list useful, or have suggestions or feedback on it, I hope you'll contact me to let me know.
Things I do in my life to reduce my unsustainable resource usage:
I've created, participate in and financially support multiple community-oriented programs that promote and educate others around messages related to sustainability.
I have a rain barrel in my yard to collect rainwater for use in gardening and yard work. It reduces the amount of filtered and treated city water I use by just a little bit, but rainwater is also better for my plants.
I mow my yard less than neighborly convention might dictate. I'm working on using a scythe to replace my gas-powered mower (and increase my physical exercise!).
I replaced the old drafty windows in my house with newer and more sealed ones. This helps reduce the energy needed to keep me comfortable inside. Unfortunately, the replacement windows are made up significantly of petroleum-based products.
I had a super high-efficiency furnace installed in my house.
I don't use air conditioning at my house more than 3 or 4 days per year, and use ceiling fans, window shading, and other methods instead. (I do, however, work in an air-conditioned office, so I can't claim to be braving the heat every day.)
I live in a small town that is easy to get around, has the potential for great community-building, and has a heritage that involves peace and justice, sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurial solutions to difficult problems.
I've replaced all of the conventional incandescent light bulbs in my house with compact fluorescent bulbs. These are supposed to last much longer and use much less energy.
I wash my dishes by hand.
I purchased a high-efficiency front-loading washing machine
I also purchased a high-efficiency drier, but there really isn't such a thing, so I try to use a clothesline to dry my laundry in the sun when I can.
I have been working on putting my appliances that use phantom power on power strips that I can turn off when I'm not using them.
I participate in my city's recycling program
I compost all organic waste from my cooking and store it in the big compost bin next to my garden.
I try to buy goods and services from local businesses when possible. This reduces the amount of resources required to bring those items to me, and supports a strong local economy that can be more resilient to fluctuations in energy prices. I especially try not to buy goods and services from businesses that I feel are actively harming local/regional/national natural resources, engaging in slave labor, or participating in the cultural trends toward sacrificing our planet and its lifeforms in the name of increased consumerism.
I support my local food cooperative by volunteering and serving on their board of directors, and by ordering household staples in bulk from them.
I try to avoid eating food that will poison my body and potentially increase the resources needed to keep me healthy (now or in the future)
I avoid buying new products and clothing when I can find them in like-new condition by shopping at Goodwill or the Salvation Army.
I have installed or am installing low-flow shower heads in my showers.
I avoid using household chemical products that pollute and cause medical problems
I ride my bicycle when I have time. Having time to ride a bike is a relative/subjective/complex thing, so I'm working on ways to make more time for riding instead of driving.
I walk places when I have time. Having time to walk is a relative/subjective/complex thing, so I'm working on ways to make more time for walking.
When I do drive, I drive a car that gets reasonably high gas mileage (i.e. not an SUV) and I try to minimize my trips.
I have a garden where I sometimes grow my own food instead of buying it from retailers who have produced it with a variety of chemicals, packaged it with a variety of non-reusable materials, and shipped it from all around the world using a variety of petroleum resources.
I work on sharing tools and equipment with my neighbors when we can.
At the company I co-own, I direct our management and "human resources" practices to encourage community and sustainability in our business activities.
Things I do in my life that aren't so sustainable, or areas where I could improve (a beginning list...I'm sure this could be quite long if one looked at all the details):
I live in and contribute to a culture that is inherently unsustainable
My day job is centered around the use of computers and related electronics equipment , which are some of the most wasteful and energy-intensive products to produce in the world. Their production, usage and disposal is one of the top contributors to environmental pollution, workforce exploitation, and global consumerism in the world.
I still buy lots of goods and services from non-local businesses, and/or businesses that actively participate in harm against the land or against other people.
I have too much stuff in my house. Too much stuff means more time and energy spent managing and repairing that stuff, and less time having fun. I need to have more fun and less stuff.
I don't bike or walk nearly as much as I could if I made more changes to support that lifestyle.
I don't grow nearly as much food as I could if I made more changes to support that lifestyle.
I still eat foods that poison my body.
A significant portion of my income helps to fund violence and oppression committed against people around the world.
I don't put enough energy into being a more active participant in my community - getting to know my neighbors, developing relationships that allow me to give support and get support, etc.
The adventure of doing all of the above is certainly not reflected in these simple bullet listings. In some cases, they were simple changes that required little or no money or time. Others were significant financial investments or major lifestyle changes. And many are ongoing, where I'm still feeling out the effects of my decisions and still finding ways to do better.
Every now and then (and several times recently), I'll hear someone use That Phrase, and it tends to be jolting. They have a troubling experience, and when they are recounting it, they say "it made me want to kill myself." Variations often include "it made me want to slit my throat" or "I wanted to blow my brains out" or, less violently, "Oh my gosh, I just wanted to die."
I know that the people who say these things usually intend them to mean "I was so embarrassed/disturbed/upset/whatever by that experience that it numbed my senses and temporarily made me unable to function." And I suppose that in an age where finding just the right expression to boldly and cleverly convey our complex emotions (perhaps without really revealing what they are) is all-important to being cool, using the very raw and attention-getting experiences of suicide, death and dismemberment as material is an appealing way to go. When someone says that something was merely "horrible" or "shocking," it's easy to tune them out since there are so many horrible and shocking things shown to us every day. But when they effectively say "it made me want to end my life," we're not yet so desensitized that we don't sit up and pay attention, at least for a little bit. Continue reading "It makes me want to kill myself"→
On Monday the problems with the brakes on my car got bad enough that I would need to take it in for service, and a new rattling noise developed that sounded like the front left tire was going to fall off. It was "billing" day and the Windows computer processing invoices froze up at the key moment where all the invoices were going to be printed. Continue reading "A week literally crafted by demons from Hell"→