Friday, April 26, 2013

Let it go

Barry Schwartz, in his book Paradox of Choice, talks about the confluence of freedom and choice.  He says (and you can see this in his TED talk, which I have added below) that one of the central ideologies of Western industrial society is that freedom is inherently good (well, it depends on what kind, right?), and that today this freedom is manifest in expanding choice for individuals.  Our supermarkets host hundreds of kinds of cookies and salad dressings (even though crop diversity has been on the decline), and electronics stores have every single combination of processor speed and physical memory and screen type you can hope for.  Yet, as Schwartz claims, increased choice doesn't lead to satisfaction or happiness.  Rather, we are crippled with regret or anticipated regret that we could have made another or better choice because we expect too much from our choices, and in the end we blame ourselves for our lack of satisfaction.

To be more specific, though, Schwartz's talk is broadly about how material choice relates to our happiness or satisfaction, and to extend Schwartz's thoughts, regret and anticipated regret and self-blame can make us continually buy things with the expectation and hope that we will feel better about ourselves.  This ties us into the bind of continually buying material products that are decidedly not socioecologically benign;  the new phones we buy are still made of heavy metals and rubber and plastic by people who are treated poorly.  

This is not to say that we should live non-material lives; cutting ourselves completely from this culture will do very little to change it.  We live in a material world and I hope that all of us want to do something about its socioecological destructiveness.  Finding that balance, that is, being able to participate in this culture while advocating for and acting toward change requires participation and engagement, not isolation.

Making a choice and being satisfied and/or happy with it requires letting go of the perceived benefits or costs of your choice.  Letting go is about making choices and not being affected by comparisons of what we have to what others do, and not being affected by imagining our lives had we made another choice.  Rather, we must stand by the choices we make to free our minds towards the positive, the constructive, rather than remorse, regret, and self-blame.  Letting it go opens up space to recentre and redouble our efforts on what must be done about social injustice and ecological degradation rather than tethering ourselves to choices that cause injustice and degradation.  A phone is a phone, and if my phone can't look up Wikipedia, big deal.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Overview Effect

Our capacity to switch back and forth between scales of time and place--to understand the global, to acutely observe the local; to learn from the past and act compassionately for the future--is what seems to be in short supply with coming to terms with burgeoning and intricate problems such as climate change and sustainability.  We constantly narrow our focus when the problems at hand are large, and we blame structures when it comes to changing what goes on in our households.  And so, on this Earth Day, I wanted to share a video with you (which I found posted on my friend's Facebook page a few weeks ago) that helps us make connections of scale, that helps inspire wonder in our minds and activism from the heart.  On this Earth day, Overview inspires the aerospace engineer in me, and, more importantly, provides all of us with boundless meaning to the word and the notion of our home, Earth.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Traveling at home: Annie Clark and her cafe

Since it has been so long since I have written a traveling at home piece, here are some older thoughts on why I do it.

I feel like the notion of traveling at home falls squarely in line with attempts at reducing trash. When we appreciate what we have, and where we are, we may start looking for beauty, pleasure and wonderment here and now. We don't have to pine to travel to some far out corner of the world, although that would be nice sometimes. We don't have to pine for something from somewhere else, although that would be nice, too. This may seem like some sort of "localism," and maybe it is, but I think it is more. I have not read much about localism but what I hope it means is more than just a patronising of businesses and groups that are close to you. I hope it means that there is a satisfaction with place with a full understanding of what needs to be done environmentally, and consequently socially, to lessen our burden on this planet...I would like to find out what it is that people appreciate about the places they are in, and when and why they decide to call it home

CafĂ© Mooset recently reopened in Bloomsburg right next to Art Space, and right across from the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble.  I have been going there religiously when in Bloomsburg, for the quietness of the space, the art on the walls, and the company of Annie Clark, owner and chef.  My interview was cut short by customers, and so it didn’t come to its tonic, but here is a part of her life and her thoughts on home.

Cafe Mooset

Art always
Where do you live, and where do you call home?
I live about three miles east of Sunbury on Sawmill road, on the side of a mountain overlooking a beautiful east-west valley.  I live on the dark side of the mountain.  But, I grew up in the northern part of Pennsylvania, close to the New York border, in Silver Lake.  Silver Lake is nine miles north of Montrose, and I still call Silver Lake home.  We used to move twice a year from our home in Silver Lake, though, because it wasn’t weatherized for winter.  So, we moved twice a year.  In that way, home had to be wherever I was, just like for a military family.  Fortunately, we moved in the same area, and so I maintained relations with the same kids in the same school. 

How has home changed over time?
It has been developed.  It was once rural, and actually remote, given its proximity to a city and a town.  I just drove there the other day, and where there were once trees are now houses dotted all around.  There used to be a lot of farmland, too, but the houses used to be clustered in small areas.  The other kids in school used to live five or ten miles away, and so when I wanted to see them, we had to plan the visits.  Nothing was walking distance.  The cottages in my area were populated in the summer, and then no one would be around.  I loved it.

What did you at home?
Well, my brother was a boy.  I was closest to the sons from the next farm, and we would always go to the water together.  I used to do a lot of stuff on their farm, and as I got older, a horse got involved.  My father was not a farmer, but a French teacher.  After teaching, he spent the rest of his life in Binghamton, working on flight simulators.  

How has the environment at home changed over time?
During the late fifties and early sixties, there was a drought in the area.  You couldn’t make it farming, and so everyone got other jobs, or they would try to farm during the day, and then have a 3-11 pm night shift job.  The farmers of the smaller farms that were less productive started selling parcels of their land to give way for more houses.  I still remember the dwindling size of the grass and hay bales.  Then again, everything goes back to the way it was when you stop doing what you do.  

There was a rule about the number of cottages that could be along the lake, and there was never supposed to be two rows of them along the lake.  Because it was a mountain lake, all the runoff ended up in the lake, and it began to suffer from pollution.  They fixed it all though, but I am not sure how.