Two years (and counting) of dwelling on the threshold

2001_7.29_620wYesterday marked the two-year anniversary of this blog. For the first anniversary, I appreciated the artist, that denizen of thresholds, dweller of the in-between realms. In this political season, I’m drawn to reflect on the circus that is our Presidential campaign season. After last night’s debate once again elicited waves of despair over the future of our country, veteran newsman Bob Schieffer asked, “How have we come to this?” How, indeed.

At times like this, I can think of only one American capable of approaching, let alone answering, a question like that: Kentucky farmer and writer, Wendell Berry. I pull a few of his books off the shelf, feeling better just holding them in my hand. My husband has NPR on in the kitchen downstairs. I hear the cadence of male and female voices hashing over last night’s events, interviewing undecided voters. I cannot hear the substance, only the vibrations of voice. Wendell Berry is all I need now. Continue reading

Reclaiming our stories and listening our way back to connection

2000_7.20_Uluru2_cropWhat a revelation. I saw the 22-year-old Baltimorean, Kondwani Fidel, perform his spoken word last evening. This is the power and potential of Art. To speak the universal language of the heart. To show, unsparingly, what is real, and true. To alchemize almost unbearable suffering into strength.

Not the false strength of righteous anger and bitterness. The unbreakable strength of an open heart.

Watching him, taken in by the rhythm of words, I was struck by his courage, the word itself derived from the Old French, coeur, meaning heart. His poetry was an offering of himself, a gift of story. His words shone with the raw material of struggle and honesty, polished by the thought and care of craft. Artistry transformed hard subjects all too often burdened with shame. His words reached me. Continue reading

Dear Roxane Gay: yes to unlikable, but no to unredeemable

2000_7.9_Whitsunday sunset_crop

In her essay, “Not Here to Make Friends,” Roxane Gay calls into question the gender double-standard that female protagonists can’t be unlikable, while literature, TV and film are full of male leads who are despicable—and we love them. It’s a fascinating and maddening situation that she tackles with aplomb. I’m enjoying all of the essays collected in her book, Bad Feminist, for how they make me think about the many ways that gender stereotypes show up (and are hidden) in our culture.

“Perhaps, then, unlikable characters, the ones who are the most human, are also the ones who are the most alive. Perhaps this intimacy makes us uncomfortable because we don’t dare be so alive.”

I do have some quibbles with this premise. Unlikable characters are certainly more realistic, and therefore more like us. They may be less relatable because we don’t want to see those traits, our shadow qualities that have been carefully hidden, or ruthlessly suppressed and denied. Still, I hold out that positive characters can be alive. A literary example doesn’t come immediately to mind, but Joanna Macy and the Dalai Lama are pretty interesting people. Continue reading

Voices from the threshold: listening for and telling other-than-human stories

2014_8.28_620w-2In his 2009 book about climate change, Down to the Wire, environmental science professor and visionary green building pioneer, David Orr, describes a thought experiment he once gave to his students. He asked them to act as lawyers representing Homo sapiens before a congress of all beings. The charges read like this:

“Over many thousands of years humans have proved themselves incapable of living as citizens and members of the community of life, and in recent centuries have become so numerous and so hazardous to other members of the community and the biosphere that they should be banished from the Earth forever.” ~ David Orr, Down to the Wire, p. 138

Continue reading

Thatching our way to a new story of relationship

Polly house compositeI made these sketches for my longtime collaborator and friend, Polly Bart. After a couple of decades as a green builder, she is building a house for herself using all natural and salvaged materials, including trees harvested from her land, strawbale walls, a green roof, and—possibly best of all—a thatched roof over the main living room’s steeply pitched log structure. Last month, the master thatcher came from Ireland to put up the roof. The photos of it are stunning. (Scroll down this post for a slideshow of six images, or follow this link for more.)

This morning, I awoke from a dream of her roof, thinking about the differences between a roof like this and conventional construction. Modern construction technology favors industrial materials put up in layers, each with its specialized purpose: structure, enclosure, water shedding, waterproofing, insulation, and to bridge and/or seal thermal movement of the different materials. Thatch, by itself, takes care of all of those purposes save the structure. Great skill and long training are required to do it correctly. Continue reading

The farmer, the artist and the light and dark side of creativity


Why don’t we go to the American Visionary Art Museum more often? It’s so full of energy and inspiration. The artist biographies alone contain worlds: stories of modest lives, of strange and average families, of being marginalized or anonymous or defying odds. And the art! Inspiration, desperation, madness, direct divine download, obsessive detail, love, beauty and hope. The human condition and human potential laid bare—and then bedazzled with mirror fragments, ceramics, jewels, beads, day-glo paint, and silver balloons. The whole messy reality of life as an embodied human.

AVAM is a funhouse of play and whimsy and joy-in-the-face-of . . . . I used to naively believe that such playfulness and inspired creativity was the reserve of a select few Chosen, and that they get to shine more brightly and be more loved than the rest of us. Of course, such artists experience the other extremes of despair, darkness, and depression more acutely too. There is no free lunch. Continue reading

Ask Edith: feeding the wolf

Dear Edith,

I’m shocked that in this day and age you’re actually advising people to send their kids outside. Continue reading

Ask Edith: Nature Deficit Disorder

Dear Edith:

My 8-year-old son has recently been diagnosed with Nature Deficit Disorder. I should have seen it coming, as earlier in the year he sprained both thumbs playing video games. Continue reading

What happens when we return to trusting our senses?

11.7.15_Horse2_620wIn the final two chapters of his exquisite book, Becoming Animal, David Abram unleashes a series of simple and brilliant observations and proposals for a way forward. One point he makes is that when Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo discovered that the earth is not fixed after all, but rather orbits a fixed sun, the senses were increasingly derided as deceptive and untrustworthy. It was thought that our observations had led us astray into primitive and naïve beliefs about our place in the cosmos, and therefore about ourselves.

It’s true that oral, place-based, indigenous cultures did rely on the body’s perceptions of, for example, the way the sun left the sky and traveled beneath (within) the depths of the earth at night, reemerging in the morning to begin anew its daily transit of the sky. This observation kindled a relational understanding of the fire that is visible in the sky being in league with the fire that is within us. They understood through direct experience that the gravitational pull of the earth on our body is the same attraction between the sun and the earth. Are these two ways of perceiving mutually exclusive? Continue reading

Creativity is my drug of choice


I self-medicate by making art. When I mentioned this recently to an artist friend, she responded that making art stresses her out. Her work isn’t up to her standards. And isn’t that the game we are all playing? My Muse inspires me, drives me to create. I try my best with the materials and skills at hand to give material form to that inner stirring, to share that non-material vision / impression / idea. Its only chance of being seen, of touching others, is to emerge through my hands into the light of day.

And it never—and I do mean never, ever—comes out the way it shimmers in my imagination. On rare occasions, it may surprise me with being far better. Or delight me in some unexpected way. It’s like doing Improv with myself: I make a move on the paper; I catch myself off guard; I respond with “yes-and,” and make my next move. Eventually, a scene evolves. Continue reading