Yo, Thoreau.

Image“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived [....] Our life is frittered away by detail [...] Simplify, simplify.”  Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)

A few days ago, I read this story about a new app that appears to do nothing but text the word “yo” to somebody else who also has the app installed.  This was enough to attract more than a million dollars in venture capital that might have, I don’t know, gone to a girl’s orphanage in Honduras.  Investor Moshe Hogeg, who kicked in $200,000, justifies his reasoning thus: “I like to do things in the easiest way. We are always looking for the easiest way. My secretary, I love her, but I hate to tell her to come…. My wife, she complains I don’t call her enough during the day. Now I can send a push notification anytime I want.”  Author Sam Biddle’s analysis is right on — “If money still means anything anymore—and I’m not sure it does!—we need to insist that a million dollars is not a trifle, and that giving this amount of money to an app that does literally one thing is worth scrutinizing” — but I like his story’s first line even better: “This week, a group of otherwise mentally sound adults agreed to go fucking insane all at once.”

I said “appears to do nothing” because, as the first commenter observes, “It’s easy to see where they’re making money with the app. This isn’t an app – It’s a wiretap.”  (Click through to the story, then the comments, for the list of data-accessing permissions “Yo” asks for when you install it.) Another commenter seconded this with a picture of the Trojan Horse. Ironically, that day I also learned about a free program called Ghostery, which identifies and lists the tracking devices running silently alongside the webpage you’re looking at so you can see them and turn them off. I’ve been using it ever since. The average webpage runs anywhere from 10 to 20 of these things.  The majority of them are, of course, for advertising.

Blog readers know I’m writing a book about (among other things) the way that “fun” and “convenience” are being used by corporations and marketers, through our omnipresent Internet-ready devices, to short-circuit our capacities for ecological thinking, civic engagement, and sustained attention.  My first reaction to Yo! was similar to Biddle’s: Are you kidding me? Is this really worth a million dollars? Is this what all the power and promise of the Internet comes down to – another incarnation of the Facebook “poke,” that design vestige (as Zadie Smith has pointed out) of a nerdy boy’s difficulty engaging with other people? And are we really so deluded about the meaning of “simple” that we will spend more than a million dollars to send an elaborately casual semi-greeting, via expensive little electronic devices made possible by bee-threatening cellphone towers and mountaintop-removal-coal-powered servers, to our secretary in the next room?

As those who already knew about Ghostery may have guessed, I’m a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant technology user (pace Jane Austen), and I like being just this much outside it. I don’t tweet. Knowing my own capacity for distraction and for absorption in even that professionally justifiable online discussion group that nevertheless siphons an hour or two of time, and being tethered to email enough as a tenured professor about to add some big administrative work to my teaching load, I choose not to have a smartphone because I need to be able to say enough.  I use a landline and a pay-as-you-go fliphone. (Yep, it’s a burner. Just like on “The Wire.”) Those who try to convince me otherwise point to what they see as the “convenience” and “simplicity” of always being hooked to their smartphones, without ever really saying what those words mean.  To be clear, this smartphone skepticism is not just hating: I’m obviously using the Internet right now.  But I get troubled when I look up from my desk after an hour, or two, when I step away from the writing project that is also keeping me at my desk for hours at a time, and I realize I haven’t been outside much that day, or really paid attention to anything in the physical, actual world. My work argues that an ethic of attention, awareness, and care has the potential to renovate our thinking in a way we’ll need to address global warming and all its sad alarming realities from now on. But what happens to us when we are constantly turning back toward the onrushing river of online-life, running onward on our devices, which ask to be thumbed and glanced at and typed-into and checked, checked, checked, so that our whole selves are never actually present in real time, where we are, right now? What if we get so taken over by the “pleasure” and “convenience” of online-ness and what-happens-when-I-press-this-button that we dull our own ability to notice the physical place where we are, and to notice that these little rectangular screens (sticky from being mashed against our cheeks) are mediating our own experience of our brains, and our lives? And — so sadly, when you think about it — when we lie to ourselves that all this is really just “convenient” and “simple?”

I’ve just finished reading an impressive, engrossing new book that has pointed me at this issue from a new angle: Richard Primack’s Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes To Thoreau’s Woods. Primack, a Boston University botanist, and his research team carried out a decade-long project that was fueled by a brilliantly simple idea: what would they find if they compared their own notes on the first blooming/budding/leafing/appearing/hatching dates of plants, birds, insects, and frogs in the early 21st century with amateur botanical observations from the last 150 years — particularly the famous journals of Henry David Thoreau?

Image

As in the work of any great writer, every time you go back to him you find a different Thoreau – and a different version of yourself. In high school, Thoreau’s the companion of furious, wordless rebellion against all the fakeness and phoniness you feel around you but can’t name. In college he’s the older brother for your Birkenstock-wearing passion for nature, which is so important, and why can’t people see that?  You get close to 40, and your conversation with Thoreau deepens (and your respect grows) with every reading, because you’ve seen how hard his real project is — disentangling yourself from politics and corporations that would take your soul and try to sell it back to you, trying to establish some ground for what is true and good and worth trusting and what is not in this, the one life you will ever have.  You see that because you are enmeshed in a project like that yourself, and it is really hard.

Thoreau’s famous efforts to “simplify” are really about stripping away illusions and inessentials to find a bedrock of what is real, deeply informed by the Eastern philosophy he was one of the first “intellectuals” in America to read.  Lots of people know the quotes I led with, above, and lots of people know about the 10-by-15-foot cabin Thoreau built himself in the woods at Walden Pond (with timbers he cut and boards repurposed from an Irish railroad shanty he bought from its owners for $4.25) and began to occupy on July 4, 1845, but fewer know this passage, from the “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” chapter:

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation; let company come and company go, let the bells ring and the children cry, — determined to make a day of it. Why should we knock under and go with the stream? Let us not be upset and overwhelmed in that terrible rapid and whirlpool called a dinner, situated in the meridian shallows. Weather this danger and you are safe, for the rest of the way is down hill. With unrelaxed nerves, with morning vigor, sail by it, looking another way, tied to the mast like Ulysses.  If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its pains. If the bell rings, why should we run? We will consider what kind of music they are like.  Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition,  and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d’appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business.

The marvelous layering of thinking here about the way we buy into social illusions — where Plato, the Bhagavad-Gita, and New England common sense meet — can perhaps be summed up in this way: “‘I have to?’ Why?”  Think about the Hydra-headed consumer world we live in, where necessity shades into whim with frightening ease as last year’s jeans/handbag/haircut/sofa just won’t do anymore, you have to get a new one.  (Thoreau gets irritated elsewhere in Walden when a tailor tells him “they aren’t making jackets like this anymore,” asking, “who’s ‘they?’”)  He’s not saying don’t ever have anything – he’s saying provide for your needs, but be sure they really are your needs, and your decision about how to provide for them.

Thoreau’s project took him into socially uncomfortable places (he famously spent a night in jail in 1846 for refusing to pay taxes that he saw as supporting national reliance on slavery), and it can take us there, too.  “Our inventions,” Thoreau writes, “are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.  They are but improved means to an unimproved end, and end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York.”  What good a telegraph between Maine and Texas, he asks, if “Maine and Texas…have nothing important to communicate?”  (Yo, that sounds familiar.)  Or, as you know if you’ve almost been hit by a texting driver (as many of us have), what’s so allfired important that it can’t wait till you’ve parked?  As Thoreau writes above, “If the bell rings, why should we run?”

Seeking a “realometer” can be uncomfortable, but so is every process of self-examination and growth worth the name.  When it comes to technology, the “have to”s of consumerism becomes downright dangerous for people and for air and groundwater, as discarded cellphones, computers, and flatscreen TVs that used to be the have-to-have thing are too often discarded to leak toxins into ground, air, and human bodies at some dump far away from you.  If we really asked ourselves “Why do I ‘have to’ buy this? How long will I have this? And what will happen to it when I’m done?,” we’d buy and discard much less than we do, and we’d be taking some steps toward our own internal “realometer” that would let us find our own bedrock of integrity and fact amid the shrieking voices of consumerist culture we are all too apt to mistake for truth.

Primack adapts Thoreau’s “realometer” to the problem of global warming, writing, “Despite the clear evidence that the world is already warming due to the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of tropical forests, most Americans still do not regard climate change as a priority.  They [...] believe that the effects of climate change will only be felt in the future and at some faraway place and not where they live today.”  Yet when we “[use] Thoreau’s own observations as a realometer to test for the truth of climate change,” we find some surprising facts, as this apparently distant phenomenon has some highly local instantiations.

Walden Warming teems with case studies of plant, animal, insect, and amphibian species in the Concord, Massachusetts area whose first and last appearances of the year, numbers, habitats, and general health have been affected by a warming climate.  (You can read more about the team and their work here.)  Salamanders, frogs, butterflies, lady’s-slipper orchids, and hummingbirds are among the many species studied, and the conclusions are similar across the board: the species that do survive are blooming or arriving earlier (more than three weeks in some cases) than in Thoreau’s time, and are being affected by the changes global warming and other human activity is wreaking in the ecological web that includes them: earlier ice-melt on Walden Pond, rising pond temperatures, fewer “vernal pools” (temporary rainwater ponds) for amphibians in a drought or too much water in a flood, meadows cut or planted with trees or covered with buildings, pesticides or lawn chemicals that harm beneficial wild plants and insects, and many more.  “[A] quarter of the species Thoreau saw are botanical phantoms, plants that have vanished from the landscape,” Primack writes.  “And since rare, native species are most likely to go extinct, and a lot of the smaller populations we recorded were both rare and native, we could speculate that within a few decades, if nothing is done to prevent it, those species we saw only in a few populations — a third of Thoreau’s original list, remember — could also disappear.  That would mean that around half of the species that Thoreau observed in Concord will no longer be present in a few decades from now; they are destined for local extinction.”  Temperature fluctuations also affect the complex system of cues by which birds arrive and depart during migration cycles, meaning that late arrivals may be able to find only marginal sites and may fall prey to starvation, heat, or other animals and early arrivals may freeze.  Amphibians could be affected by this too, as “[t]emperatures just a bit warmer could dry up [vernal pools] in the early summer before the amphibians have completed their life cycle, causing the death of all juveniles for that year.  This is particularly true for spotted salamanders, which have a long development time.”  (In one of the many personal anecdotes that further enliven this accessible book, Primack describes a nighttime family outing to a golf course where a parking lot and a dangerous road stood between salamanders and a vernal pool at the bottom of a hill; as the excited children “gently gather[ed] up the salamanders in cupped hands and carr[ied] them across the parking lot and access road” to get safely down to the pond for breeding, Primack notes, “This was a night to remember: a night for salamanders, and not one of the hundreds of typical nights of homework, computers, television, and reading.”)

Primack’s pleas to address global warming are direct and heartfelt: aside from preserving this web of life for our children and grandchildren to know, we should care about it not only for the sake of the individual creatures but also for the network of relationships that sustains them and sustains us.  Professor and eco-philosopher Timothy Morton has written extensively on “the ecological thought,” a way of being in and seeing the world that is grounded in the interconnectedness of people, creatures, plants, and objects.  In such an interconnected world, there is no “away,” as in “throw it away” — our actions always have consequences for us right here.  “The ecological thought doesn’t just occur ‘in the mind,’” Morton writes. “It’s a practice and a process of becoming fully aware of how human beings are connected with other beings – animal, vegetable, or mineral.” To illustrate this, Morton borrows “Indra’s net,” an image of interdependence from Buddhist scripture: “At every connection in this infinite net hangs a magnificently polished and infinitely faceted jewel, which reflects in each of its facets all the facets of every other jewel in the net. Since the net itself, the number of jewels, and the facets of every jewel are infinite, the number of reflections is infinite as well.” Reality, seen through the lens of truly ecological thought, looks like Indra’s net; everything reflects, affects, and is reflected and affected by everything else, as biology, quantum mechanics, philosophy, economics, and other fields have their own ways of explaining, and as Walden Warming clearly demonstrates.

Thoreau, always bigger and stranger than we think, got to this place more than 150 years ago in striving to stake out a “realometer,” some place to stand to see what is and to properly assess human’s place it in as one of the myriad – not the dominion-holder, not the sentimental painter-of, but as fellow creature, looking with a factuality that opens, lightly, into wonder.  To dismiss him as a “nature writer” is to misunderstand him and the human project in which he was engaged — the renovation of one’s vision of everyday life, the acceptance of ethical and ecological responsibility — and into which we can follow him. As essayist Rebecca Solnit has written, “This compartmentalizing of Thoreau is a microcosm of a larger partition in American thought, a fence built in the belief that places in the imagination can be contained. Those who deny that nature and culture, landscape and politics, the city and the country are inextricably interfused have undermined the connections for all of us (so few have been able to find Thoreau’s short, direct route between them since). This makes politics dreary and landscape trivial, a vacation site. It banishes certain thoughts, including the thought that much of what the environmental movement dubbed wilderness was or is indigenous homeland—a very social and political space indeed, then and now—and especially the thought that Thoreau in jail must have contemplated the following day’s huckleberry party, and Thoreau among the huckleberries must have ruminated on his stay in jail.”

What sets Primack’s book apart from many other calls to action on global warming is his solution, expressed in the wonderful term “citizen science:” the marvelous simplicity of looking carefully at your local ecology, observing, and writing things down to provide a “realometer” for future studies and fuel for change.  This meshes with what any good gardener or farmer or birdwatcher or butterflywatcher already knows: as my gardening mentor taught me, you don’t have to be a professional scientist, you just have to be observant, and you have to get out and look at things so you know what’s normal and what’s not.  Primack muses on the possibility that maybe among young members of his audience is a “new Thoreau,” eager to observe and act on those observations.  And “citizen science” can renovate perceptions at the local and national level and beyond, as Philip Cafaro (quoted in Primack) states: “In itself, one individual consuming less is trivial, in the context of global climate change. But that person freed from the desire for ever ‘more’ is now in a position to ask for a new kind of politics from his leaders and his fellow citizens: a politics of ‘enough’ rather than the current ‘more more more.’”

Thoreau’s realometer is challenging but inspiring, and, I argue, achievable for each of us if we want it — a practical and ethical position we arrive at within ourselves, a place we can stand to see what is and to properly assess our role in it.  Not as dominion-holder, not as sentimentalist-about, but as fellow, looking with a factuality that opens, lightly, into wonder. This is the “simplicity” that will let us examine our human systems and adjust them to meet our real human needs — with or without the latest devices and toys that only seem so necessary.

In the evening, after I finished Primack’s book, I went into the woods on a high limestone bluff above the river.  Molten sunset striped through the trees onto the stone as the rain melted away.  A raccoon scrambled past.  All around me, rich wet smells rose from the tangled banks of green stretching up the hillside above the river.  A woman in an SUV went by: in the passenger seat sat a kid with head down, texting.  Passing puddles in the road, I thought, vernal pond.  Frog song came up the hill from the river and fireflies — the first of the year, I am prepared to say — blinked on, and on again, under the trees.

Posted in attention, conservation, politics, self-reliance, technology | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Dandelion wars.

220px-DandelionFlowerIt’s that time again: the latest round of the anti-weed, lawn-spraying wars.  In our town, this plays out not only in individual lawns but on the campus of our college, which routinely comes under fire from lots in the community and some on the faculty for its annual spraying (usually around Memorial Day.)  I am not unsympathetic to the desire for a lawn free of creeping Charlie and dandelions (the two big weeds in this part of the world) because my own lawn gets more taken over by them every year, and my little reel mower takes more and more passes to keep them under some semblance of control.  As a little girl, I once earned a dime per plant for weeding an entire horse pasture full of dog fennel, an obnoxious, straggly deep-South weed, tossing them one by one into my red wagon trundling behind me.  My mom still points proudly to the fact that nary a dog-fennel plant has ever reared its head in that pasture again.

I am just enough of a Virgo neat-freak to dream of the green velvet sward, or at least of clearing enough time in my schedule to dig out every single dandelion by hand.  They say you can eat dandelion leaves as a good spring green.  I’m sure that’s true but I prefer a different treatment for my enemies: trucked in a spare trash bin off to the yard waste site, off the property, out of my life for good.  (You can compost them, but they have a sneaky tendency to turn to seed even after being cut, and then your compost becomes parasitized.)  In moments of weakness I am tempted to call the lawn-spraying company and let them have at it.  But I like to walk on my lawn in bare feet, and so do my cats.  I like to eat what comes out of my garden knowing it is chemical-free and safe.  I know that chemical-company promises of “safety” — like just about every other corporate promise I can think of — are illusions designed to angle for our wallets and scratch the little consumerist itches we tuck out of sight, behind all our good intentions.  If you’ve ever had a family member with cancer — as more and more of us have — you know this danger is real.  Our bodies are the living end results of processing all that’s in the world around us.  And I don’t want to pay for poison in my own dear yard, in the soil that — since I am a homeowner — is mine, just as I wouldn’t pay for poison in my body or brain.

But whether to spray on a corporate or college campus is not always the decision of idealists like me who work there.  It’s an issue connected to our big task these days in higher education: discerning and maintaining our values in the face of market pressures which can be more antithetical to those values than we like to think.  As deposited-student numbers (like everyone’s) come under scrutiny and administrators get nervous (like everywhere), one of the first places we look is to appearances — we show off the climbing wall, the renovated dorms, the beautiful river winding through our valley, the restored and well-maintained prairie with its cross-country running trails, all of which speak well to the values of student health in and engagement with a lovely and particular place.  As a college, too, we ask students to examine and challenge their existing values and ideas in order to grow, as any good college does.  But lawn-spraying is a persistent blind spot, squatting like a big hairy-rooted dandelion smack in the middle of what is otherwise a generally sensible and sustainable conversation about how to maintain our campus’s good looks and appeal to prospective students and beauty as a place we live and work every day.  Our focus on spotless, undulating waves of green betrays the same lurking golf-course, pseudo-nature aesthetic that is wrecking terrain and depleting groundwater all over the country — and the costs of which California, just to name one, is discovering a little too late.  Colleges have to be leaders in facing, and thinking about ways to handle, reality.  And blindly following the same shopping-mall-”pretty,” green-and-weedless-at-any-cost aesthetic that’s poisoning and/or depleting water tables in a world where water is about to be more precious than ever is a failure of leadership.  It’s a failure, period.

A couple of years ago, I wrote to a then-high-up-administrator to urge that spraying be stopped.  In addition to the known, ongoing dangers of lawn chemicals on grass where our students play (and in the groundwater they drink), there is usually an embarrassing casualty of “drift” — last year, a young tree planted in memory of a student.  The administrator was responsive to my concerns but told me the spraying would continue so that the campus would present the best impression to prospective students and parents.  The annual cost, some $4500 at the time, was, he said, in the scheme of things, not that big a deal.  I suggested — in line with other sustainability and marketing initiatives, and with the general cost-cutting pressures every department on campus is feeling in areas from copying to art supplies to student travel to conferences — that we save that $4500 and stop poisoning the air and ground by setting up friendly signs bearing some marketing-approved version of “If you see a dandelion, be happy, not scared — this college controls ‘weeds’ by cutting, not spraying, because we care about our students’ endocrinal and cellular health!”

I still think we should give this a try.  Maybe someday we will.  The day of the spray, at least in our area, is coming to a close as more and more people make the same decisions about their lawns that I am making.  In the meantime, that woman out there in the bare feet, pushing the whishing, clackety reel mower, rooting out the baby buckeye trees from last year’s squirrel-buried nuts (and sprinkling cayenne pepper against future squirrels), and calling to the cats as they nose around in the grass – that’ll be me.

Posted in community, conservation, corporations, culture, gardening, teaching | Leave a comment

The triggering town: some thoughts on pedagogy, warnings, and experience.

Sitting in my backyard on the first warm day of the year, I’m reading my first-year college students’ last papers: personal reflections on Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” and its application to education as they want to continue to experience it. Emphasis on experience. One after another, they return to Plato’s central image: a prisoner is released from his underground cave where shadows (manipulated by others) flicker on the wall, and he struggles up into the light that first blinds him then fills him with a radiant excitement.  He knows that as difficult as that struggle has been (and is going to be), he has pushed through into a new kind of seeing, a new layer of self with which to be present to the world. They match this idea with Dante, tunnelling deeper into Hell and confronting ever-graver suffering (noting that Dante, like the prisoner, is still “ascending” because he’s going through the earth to Paradise, even though at times he passes out from the shock and horror of what he sees), and to Frederick Douglass, whose realization of the staggering odds against him at first depresses, then energizes, him to struggle for education by any means necessary. Over and over, students return to a new conviction I’ve seen growing in them all year: college, like life, is about pushing yourself through discomfort toward the growth that waits on the other side, even (or perhaps especially) when facing the light of the world beyond your dark, protected cave is painful.

Coming inside to check email for a bit, I find the latest in an ongoing conversation on creative-writing-pedagogy and college-professor threads: what is the place of “trigger warnings” in college classrooms? As a creative writing teacher, the first thing I think of when I think of “triggers” is Richard Hugo’s classic book on poetry writing, The Triggering Town, in which “triggering” describes the process by which a new insight or image or poem or story might be sparked into life by something in the world around you, roaring up to startle and delight you like a ring-necked pheasant flushed from underfoot. Being “triggered,” in this sense, is being awakened by the world to something beyond yourself: when a sparrow lights beyond the window, the poet John Keats wrote, “I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel.” Keats knew what all creative writing students, and spiritual seekers, and adults in general have to come to know: the beginning of maturity, in any area of your life, is the realization that the world is not a story about you.  That even as you may seek to engage with and alter your world, you will have to accommodate yourself to reality that can be uncomfortable. That reality – for better and worse – is independent of the stories we tell ourselves about it. That – although it can be beautiful, saddening, amazing, traumatic – life is not fundamentally amenable to our own plans for and confident projections about it. Again: reality is not a story about ourselves. From this perspective, to avoid “triggers” is to avoid revelations, discoveries, and changes from the painful to the miraculous. It’s to wrap yourself in cotton, to numb yourself to existence.

As a feminist sympathetic to victims of rape and abuse, however, I know that this is not the only meaning of “trigger,” and I know that this concern for inadvertent re-experiencing of trauma in our classrooms is just one of the many philosophical and cultural realities meeting in college itself. Indeed, college is one of the last big hinge points in this society where adolescence and adulthood meet, and where enduring truths and the search for them, no matter how embattled, are hanging on, struggling with the economic, environmental, and social realities swirling through campus from the surrounding world. College is never only about college; education is never only about education; growing up is never only about growing up. To get below the surface of any text, we start by asking, in my classes, “what is this really about?” So here are some starting answers to the question of what the conversation about “triggers” in college classrooms, all of which feel both transcendent and culturally inflected, is really about: the Platonic/Socratic search for the ultimate “good” beyond illusion; suffering and our responses to it; self-protection; consumerism and our ideas about what purchased “experiences” should or should not contain; our relationship to experience in general.

The world is not a story about you: from the ubiquity of pocket Internet-delivery systems to Google ads that shift their images to angle afresh for your wallet as you browse, just about everything in 21st-century commercial culture is designed to contradict that truth, even as proofs of it are everywhere, offscreen in the world. I think of the stories of meditating Zen monks suddenly smacked upside the head by their teachers to shock them back to the present, out of wandering or digression into the stories of me, me, me the brain is always waiting to unfold. The brain likes those stories, because the world beyond the safety of me is frightening. It is a place where suffering is not redemptive, where pain and terror and agony happen for no reason, where goodness and hard work are not always rewarded, where evil does exist. Part of the terror of Boko Haram’s kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls is that reality that you can still be doing everything “right,” can be pursuing your education and going about your life in the belief that it is under your control and still be snatched out of your own world into a parallel, powerless one, where your selfhood is blotted out under the weight of indifferent forces that see you only as a vessel to be filled with themselves. It’s the horror of the end of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four and, more sharply, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; it’s the kind of horror so blithely ignored by Todd Akin and his ilk in dismissing some kinds of rape as “legitimate” and others as not; it’s a basement dungeon in Cleveland. It’s the imposition of your own self’s “needs” and desires over someone else’s; it’s a willed blindness to the fact that the other person is also real. It happens to our students. It happens to us. And it always has.

Humans try to escape suffering or discomfort, in whatever form it might present itself. Yet higher education, set at the hinge point between adolescence and adulthood and increasingly asked, as education in general is, to be all things to all people, cannot be tempted to conflate all discomfort as equal or avoidable. We know that students and parents increasingly shop for and curate their college experiences like any other consumer good, demanding “better customer service” and a more comfortable ride, in and out of the classroom, from climbing walls in the gym to less difficult texts and higher grades. More than ever, we are seeing students who desire to manipulate, manage, and be in control of their own experience of everything, including college. At its best, this mindset leads to the good kind of skepticism, to an active and alert engagement with and choices about what’s around you, and to the knowledge of yourself that is both honest and direct – including a mature openness to the world. At its worst, it leads to an otiose self-protectiveness and intellectual and emotional laziness, setting up filters to exclude challenge and discomfort. As hard as it is, and as apparently uncaring as it can seem, we have to ask: can students expect to be shielded, at college, from certain kinds of pain? How do we separate the Socratic pain of confrontation with the light of truth (necessary for the intellectual growth and maturity we claim to be about, and inescapable in life in general), from a type of psychological suffering college should not inflict or reinflict, such as involuntary re-experiencing of serious trauma? And how can we help students distinguish the two?

I’m going to turn from thinking about obvious subjects of “trigger warnings” – rape, torture, abuse, as cited in the NY Times article above – to a college-specific case study: religion. As a college of the ELCA, established in the nineteenth century to provide training for Norwegian Lutheran ministers in American immigrant communities and a more questioning, intellectually rigorous mode of Biblical exegesis than was common back then, my college requires all students to take courses in Biblical studies. The approaches my religion colleagues use are very historically and textually based, shocking many students with the facts that (for instance) the Bible was assembled over time by multiple authors, and that there is nothing or at best contradictory things about [insert hot-button social issue here] in the text. To a student from a conservative Christian household, brought up to serve God and do well in school and obey what both teachers and parents say, the collision of faith and historical fact may rock the foundations of self in a way it is easy for non-Christians (and non-adolescents) to mock but impossible to overstate. Such a student may experience what a professor would call this Socratic process of struggle as a violation of the deepest aspects of himself and his understanding of the world, a source of existential bewilderment and pain equivalent to struggles with death or war or other kinds of human accident or evil. And many do. My colleagues in the Religion Department wrestle with this and counsel more students over it than the rest of us will ever know. Yet they do not say that we should back away from confronting challenges to faith, that we should only read or study what confirms our 18-year-old view of the world. Neither do students, as it turns out. Routinely, they tell my colleagues and me that their experiences in religion class here are among the most challenging but, because of that, the most important of their lives – that they have grown, as a result, from a child’s understanding of God and the world to an adult’s, and are prepared to see that process continue, no matter where it goes. They are, as Sonya Chung says of creative writers, accepting a tolerance of difficulty and uncertainty as the basic fact of adulthood.

And that tolerance for difficulty is the basic fact of adulthood, as it is of intellect and art. It just is. Routinely now I begin my creative writing classes with age-appropriate discussions of this fact: you will confront, here, your own limitations and insecurities and arrogances in ways you never expected to, and you will be changed, because when you write, that’s just what happens. You will get little to no external reward – even I write and get rejected and keep going. But you will have to decide, for yourself, whether and how to keep doing it because it’s worth it. Creative writers live at the territory of always-inadvertent self-triggering, anyway – going deep and always stumbling across some live wire in our own psyches that unexpectedly jolts and sobers. We know this about ourselves and each other. It’s just part of it.

None of this is to minimize the fact that the difficulty of, say, rape and its aftermath is real. And it is not to say that a student struggling with a personal issue should be constantly smacked upside the head with it in the name of Socratic learning. Self-protectiveness can be necessary for a while; it can lead to the good choices about where to go or not to go, what to see or not to see, that can mean surviving and healing, getting over a bad time and continuing on to a life that incorporates that memory but is not limited or defined by it. But it can also lead to clinging, as a means of self-definition and self-protection, to the same trauma or trouble it claims to be guarding against; the student who refuses to read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice on the grounds of anti-Semitism (an example from one college’s list of potentially “triggering texts” and traumas) closes herself off to any understanding of anti-Semitism beyond the one with which she approaches it, locking herself in place. Most students, of course, lie somewhere in between. And this spectrum asks for realism and compassion from us, mixed in doses appropriate to that student and her situation that will both support her and nudge her forward, helping her stand on her own two feet. It asks for college to be a place – as democracy still struggles to be a place – where multiple perspectives and experiences meet in a common ground that gives all of them space. This is academic freedom; this is the reality of the world; this is maturity. If dictatorship and oppression are singularity, orthodoxy, and control (and the banning of books that might upset you, as in the recent cases in South Carolina), democracy is multiplicity, possibility, more-than-one-right-answer, maybe-I-am-wrong, there-is-more-to-this-than-I-thought. I do still believe in college as a place where students can experience and learn from this, one by one, no matter what their circumstances. It’s hard to work out how to give everyone this chance, to enable everyone’s flourishing in fairness and rigor and safety. But we have to try, and triggering warnings or regulations, with their potentially chilling effect on pedagogy and academic freedom, are not the way.

Of course, resisting a too-easy embrace of “trigger warnings” does not mean that professors can just charge ahead into a sort of unexamined, tough-guy, if-they-can’t-take-it-get-out pedagogy, which risks turning us into professorial equivalents of the tiresome philosophy major who prides himself on “making people think” when he’s really just being a jerk. We are the adults, and we are twenty years or so ahead of our students, and things that seem “obvious” to us are not always “obvious” to them. It’s easy for us to forget that. “The world is not a story about you” applies to us, too – we don’t and can’t know what is happening inside everyone’s head. But as the example of students encountering Socrates shows, we have to create a fair, safe, but open field for them to encounter a variety of texts, be supported (as needed) in their reading of them, and be ready to experience what we can’t predict in advance.  We can give fair warning in our syllabi if difficulty lies ahead, and we can use our syllabi to make clear how “challenge” and “difficulty” will be defined for the purposes of our class. Of course, we’ll need administrators and parents to support us. We’ll need students themselves to do so too. But an approach to texts that is inquisitive, sensitive, but open and fair can get them on board, offering them more grounds for identity and discovery than “trauma” alone and getting other people into a story that a focus on “trauma” risks shrinking to a false singularity and that lists of “traumas” like the ones from Oberlin et. al. risk flattening even further. In my experience, trauma victims or sufferers of illnesses themselves are often most appreciative of a sensitive but open approach to these issues in the classroom, just as they are often mature and responsible about self-advocating, seeking resources they need, and eager not to be defined by that “trauma” alone.

Novelist Mary Gaitskill, in her essay “On Not Being a Victim,” writes about her own experience of being raped, “Since I had been taught only how to follow rules that were somehow more important than I was, I didn’t know what to do in a situation where no rules obtained and that required me to speak up on my own behalf. I had never been taught that my behalf mattered. And so I felt helpless, even victimized, without really knowing why.” Yet Gaitskill continues, “Part of becoming responsible is learning how to make a choice about where you stand in respect to the social code and then holding yourself accountable for your choice. In contrast, many children who grew up in my milieu were given abstract absolutes that were placed before us as if our thoughts, feelings, and observations were irrelevant.” College has got to remain a place where critical thinking and independent decision-making – based on one’s own nonproscribed encounters with texts – remains possible for students, no matter what backgrounds or experiences they may be bringing to us. Approaching a classroom with assumptions about what a text might or might not do to students risks teaching your own assumptions about students – not the fully multidimensional people they actually are – and denying them of college’s most precious gift, the critical faculty of taking in information from the world around them, making their own decision, and finding the means to act on it.

Like so many of us in 2014, many students long for “authenticity” and “experience of the world” even as they fear these things. They may hesitate to step from beyond the safety of their own equivalent of gated communities, their own internal “caves,” because the light above – which illuminates weakness and fear as well as possibility and self-reliance – is just too painful.  Yet college is one of the last defining adulthood transition experiences – aside from military or post-college-nonprofit service – available to young people now, who are funneled toward it by combinations of personal and economic desires and other people’s expectations. College is where our students are coming to experience something real – to live out the dreams of intellectual or creative transformation that their high schools (as I hear from more students every year) are just not giving them. (“You can still get a great high school education,” colleagues joke, “too bad you have to go to college to get it.”) Even though what they bring with them doesn’t always prepare them for what they find when they get here, we can still offer them difficulty and complexity and the opportunity to find their own voices. And – with attention to their particular circumstances – we have to try.

Posted in culture, teaching | 10 Comments

Dreams of sun.

robert parkeharrison - forestbed 1998

Robert ParkeHarrison, “Forestbed” (1998). See http://parkeharrison.com/.

There’s a particular kind of sleep that waits for you when you’ve been outside working all day, especially in a garden: a kind of heavy, instant falling-off that nevertheless feels light, as if your sleep-sodden body might lift and rise at any moment and crack and sprout into something you’ve never known till then you wanted to become.  It’s shot through with flickering images that sometimes cohere into dreams and sometimes don’t.  And if you are sleeping on sheets that have been dried outside on a line, you may feel an extra lift and sideways drift to your dreams, some spirit of the light and wind that’s soaked into the soft roughness of the cloth that’s cradling you.  That salty, sunny smell is air, it’s light, it’s spring.  It’s the forward motion of the days that’s carrying you, too, on into the next day when you will wake up and go outside to dig your fingers into the soil again, when you will check the thin skin of green cells your baby lettuces and poppies (self-seeded survivors through the winter snow) have added since the last time you looked: reaching in their sleep, as you do, for the sun.

Posted in attention, gardening, mystery, seasons, spirit | 4 Comments

The gardener’s peanut gallery.

“Wow, look at you. I wish I could have a garden like yours but I guess I’m just too lazy.”

“I love your garden. Too bad I’m too busy to do this kind of thing — I’d really like to.”

“Wow, you’re really making the rest of us look bad.”*

“How on earth do you find the time to do all this?”

I used to think objecting to these questions was oversensitive until I stood, for the hundredth time, awkwardly smiling and inwardly wondering: exactly what am I supposed to say to this? “Yep, guess you are too lazy; try turning off the TV.” “Too busy? Yeah, I know what you mean. I have such a hard time juggling my own relentless schedule of manicures and drinks with the girls.” “Actually, your yard is making you look bad, hon.” Or, to the last question: widening my eyes, jittering back and forth, and exclaiming, “Speed!”

The real reason I’m tired of all these remarks (and their variations) is not the words but the little nonverbal twists at the end: the little airy laugh that always follows “I guess I’m too lazy,” the self-satisfied smile that always follows “I’m too busy,” the vaguely horrified tone to “how on earth?” Why do I get so annoyed by these remarks? Because a) they are not expressions of a genuine desire to change one’s life by gardening or other ways, b) they are not genuine compliments, and c) they cue me in to the presence of something I hate more than just about anything else: somebody projecting their own unresolved, unprocessed emotional bullshit on me.

In this respect, gardeners are like athletes and obvious-good-health-maintain-ers (who get the same kind of pushback in “I wish I had the time you do to exercise…” “I wish I could eat more healthy [sic] too, but I just don’t have the willpower…”) and writers (in my non-garden life I get a lot of “I could write a novel/story/screenplay too, if I just had the time…”) I am willing to help or advise anybody who’s honestly interested in gardening, who honestly wants help or advice, and I know how life can throw up obstacles to change – I’ve experienced many of those obstacles myself.  But every year it gets a little harder to be polite to the people who respond to the vague envy my garden arouses in them by tearing it down. And the difference between the honest and the passive-aggressive is a lot more obvious than they think.

Feel guilty about the barren moonscape around your house? Then do what I did – just start tearing up the landscape cloth and hauling away rock and chip away at it, little by little. Take the initiative and get started. It’s not rocket science.  Feeling like your life’s too busy? Take the steps you need to take to bring things back in balance. Feeling fat? Climb the stairs and look harder at sugar and push yourself to get on a bike or take a walk at the end of the day (and drink more water. It helps). Want to write? Get Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and write for half an hour a day and tap into resources like community-arts-center classes and see what you get.  But for heaven’s sake, don’t go around seeking to make other people the scratching posts for your own passive-aggressive, self-pitying, self-exculpatory, same-old-same-old excuse-making crap. If the sight of someone else’s success (in any area) makes you envious, admit it and take steps to achieve some success of your own.  Don’t dodge your own moment of truth by making apparently friendly, actually undermining remarks that don’t fool anyone. And before you turn and walk away from the garden you have stopped to admire, say something simple, true, and not about you: Thanks. This is beautiful.

peoniesandcanoeing 004* added by Jim Tripp :)

Posted in gardening | 9 Comments

New life, in waiting.

ImageFor the last few weeks of what’s been a brutally long winter, this was what I saw when I opened my bottom cabinet: thronging vines springing toward the light they’d been seeking in the dark, on their own, whether I was there to open the door or not.  These are last year’s potatoes, harvested but stored incorrectly in a rush of fall-semester teaching that never let up.  Too much warmth, not enough dark. Too many intentions, not enough time.  Too much cold.  Too many Things in the Real World To Address.  Meanwhile, potatoes and onions waited.  Roots are patient, and they keep themselves alive.  That’s their nature.

Yesterday, in time for Easter Sunday, these roots got resurrected.  After a fresh load of compost/mulch from the yard waste site [thankfully someone with a Bobcat happened to be there to help me load; I've shoveled and unshoveled truckloads of mulch on my own but would prefer not to do so again] in the raised beds I built last year, I planted them.  Emptied out on the surface of the fresh mulch, they were tadpole-shaped and curiously alive, each little spud with its long electric-purple tail.  The white potatoes’ roots were shorter, toad-warty, toad-stumpy.  But now, today, they are nested in ground and subject to a thorough, slow, rain that for the first time this year is springtime-cool, not cold.  Time to see what they’ll become, now that they have their chance.

Posted in food, gardening, resilience, seasons | Leave a comment

The twentysomething brain (and beyond.)

(from my manuscript-in-progress)

Significantly, Buddhists call looking at an object or emotion steadily for some time and processing the emotions that arise “sustaining the gaze.”  The ability to “sustain the gaze” without distraction from within or without is the ability to rest in the relative stability of a mature understanding of reality, to pay attention to the other person or thing as it is, to enter into a reality beyond the self, and to recognize – as I’ve said before – that the world is not a story with yourself at the center.  Walking this path, you find that your own neuroses, anxieties, and self-criticisms diminish and your ability to engage the world with wonder and empathy and fairness increases.

Being able to “sustain the gaze” – including at yourself, to evaluate and renovate – is a sign of maturity, no matter what your actual age is.  Yet technology and media are only one part of what makes that type of maturity difficult – in many cases, achieving mindfulness means working against the structure of the brain itself, and the younger and/or the more technologically immersed you are, the more difficult this may be.  In her book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – And How To Make the Most of Them Now, clinical psychologist Meg Jay writes that since our brains develop from the bottom to the top and from the back to the front, among the most active portions of our brains when we’re in our twenties are the amygdalae – the deeply rooted seat of “the emotional brain,” where emotions and memories (particularly challenging or fearful ones) are assimilated into long-term memory storage.  “Evolutionary theorists believe,” Jay writes, “that the brain is designed to pay special attention to what catches us off-guard, so we can be better prepared to meet the world next time,” and since our twenties are full of experiences different in degree and in kind from what came before, the amygdalae can make us feel more than a bit as if we’re on an emotional rollercoaster, jolted up, down, or sideways by strong emotions connected to new experiences. “MRI studies show,” Jay writes, “that twentysomething brains simply react more strongly to negative information than do the brains of older adults.”  Our active amygdalae make us feel as if every emotion or event (particularly negative ones) is groundbreaking and crucial, while the frontal lobe – the last part of the brain to develop, in our thirties – hasn’t yet assumed its full role as mediator, the site of reflecting, evaluating, putting life events into perspective, and calming oneself down.  As college students, we can feel whipsawed by disappointments or uncertainties in work, school, or relationships that may seem minor even five years later, simply because, in neurological terms, that event is standing center stage in our brains, alone, demanding what later comes to seem a disproportionate amount of bandwidth but at the time feels simply like “the way things are.” Scary or uncomfortable things just get the brain’s attention more.

Therefore, just as we can’t afford to assume that our current techno-saturated lifestyles are natural or inevitable and cannot be changed or resisted, we can’t lose sight of the fact that what we experience as “reality” is being constructed by our malleable brains, which are always in flux and response to stimuli from within and beyond ourselves.  We are always looking through a lens, and our lives become more centered, quiet, and powerful when we learn to see that the brain itself is where the lens is built, with and without our conscious consent.  Neuroscientist Douwe Draaisma, in his book Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older, writes that the feeling he describes in the title comes from the brain having more experiences to put next to one another in memory, creating an interior sense of speeded-up or compressed time which also can lend perspective: the event we’re experiencing is and is not unique.  In our own lives as thirty- and forty-somethings and beyond, we become able to calm ourselves even in difficulty with memories of previous survival, experiences we can put next to new ones in our memories as we draw upon the reflective, judging, forecasting powers of the mature frontal lobe:  I went through this before, we think, and it didn’t kill me; this feeling is painful, but pain does pass. 

By contrast, the relatively active and unmediated amygdala of a twentysomething and younger brain is seeking and seizing on new stimuli for the brain’s own development, then trumpeting to itself the importance of what it has found.  It wants to be plugged in.  It wants to connect.  It wants to be fed.  It can’t really help seeing itself as the most important thing in existence.  This, I’d argue, makes young brains especially susceptible to the rollercoaster of anxiety and stimulus-seeking that the Internet is designed to provide, and to the subsequent consumer anxiety that follows.  When every part of your interior life feels suffused by the imperative Grow! See more! Become a self! Figure out who you are! Build memories and experiences! – and when, as we’ve seen, these imperatives are arising from the literal structure of the brain itself – it can feel very logical to respond to those urges by checking Facebook and email obsessively, by clicking on the Zappos ad that pops up next to the Facebook post in which you’ve been chatting with your friends about a new pair of shoes for your job, or going out to shop for a new suit, or standing a round of drinks for friends and new social contacts at the bar, and swiping your credit card to make all of this happen and checking Facebook on your phone again to see what your friends are saying about you.  Jay’s The Defining Decade cites studies that reaffirm a familiar bit of financial-planning wisdom: in our twenties, it’s so easy to rack up debt because the future self that will be on the hook for it does not seem real, and because the actual and perceived pressures to form social and professional identity seem so urgent.  (Remember, the frontal lobe, where forecasting happens, isn’t quite grown up yet.)  In a study Jay cites, two groups of twentysomethings were shown two different kinds of pictures – one group saw current self-portraits, while the other was shown age-progressed pictures of themselves – and then each group was asked to set aside retirement savings for the person in the picture.  Unsurprisingly, the subjects who literally “saw their future selves” set aside more than twice as much as those looking at their present selves.

This “present bias,” to which we’re susceptible at any age, is heightened by a consumer culture constantly shrieking buy, watch, consume this to become this type of person, reducing – in quintessential capitalist logic – people to things and identities to trappings of things.  Creating consumers is about creating or heightening anxieties, then offering purchasable commodities as “solutions” to those anxieties.  (Partisan media communities can work the same way, offering stories and imagined communities of the like-minded to stoke views of the world that the media outlet itself has helped to create, reinforcing all of this as “reality.”)  Thus before they know it, twentysomethings can get stuck in a perfect storm of debt and anxiety created by what after all could be called socially and even neurologically “natural” goals: creating social connections in community, building an identity in others’ eyes and your own, generating stimuli and experiences that construct the brain’s bank of memory – and thus, perhaps, the self – from the inside.  Perhaps that new handbag or pair of shoes or book or item of outdoor gear or dream vacation adventure is, for the younger brain, literally harder to resist, especially when no other experience of the world exists yet to set against it.  Just as it’s easier to fume against those on one side of an issue if you don’t actually know anyone affected by it in ways you aren’t or anyone who disagrees with you, it’s easy to grasp at the available straw of consumer goods to cement that always-in-progress thing, your own identity, and dispel that most uncomfortable emotion – uncertainty and ambiguity and fear – when you have developed no other way to turn down the volume of that [perhaps imaginary] “need” shrieking in your ear.

As I write, as a tenured associate professor in a job I love, nine months away from age 40, I’m smiling a fond and bittersweet kind of smile: in my twenties and early thirties, I went through exactly what I’ve just described.  I got good grades in college, where I thrived in a double English and Journalism major and a newly formed Honors Program, edited the literary magazine, took as many creative writing classes as I could, and had the great fortune to learn through those experiences what I loved: writing.  An internship at a small but stellar advertising firm became a job there, from which I made the transition to graduate school in literature.  Yet although my performance in graduate school was outwardly as “successful” as my undergraduate career had been – perhaps more so, since I was publishing and teaching by that time – I couldn’t fully admit to myself how deeply I felt panicked and out of my depth.  I knew I was smart, but I’d always read and written more or less just what I wanted and been able to get away with it, seldom working systematically or with the kind of concentration I knew I was capable of.  Despite my high grades, great student rapport, happiness in the program, and conviction this was the right place for me in the world, I still felt like an imposter, bitten deep with the conviction most academics feel but few confess: they’re going to find out I don’t belong here and send me home.   I worked hard.  I read constantly.  I published scholarly articles and short stories while teaching undergraduates and taking courses and qualifying exams and going to conferences.  I made friends and threw parties.  But it never felt like enough.

So I went after the external trappings of professional academic identity with everything I had – specifically, with every credit card.  By the time I graduated with my Ph.D and secured my first tenure-track job, I was carrying $50,000 in consumer debt.  Some was perhaps justifiable: I’d had to finance a new car and job-search suits and plane tickets to MLA.  But easily half of it was clothes and meals out and concert tickets, the trappings of a social and professional identity I wanted badly to believe in.  And most of all it was books, new and used, from the three different used bookstores and excellent on-campus new bookstore I haunted so much that even their staffs started giving me bemused, incredulous smiles: you’re here again?  If I read about it or met the author at a reading or conference and could justify its purchase to myself for  “professional reasons” – I could write about this! I could teach this! It will help me with my dissertation! – I usually bought it.  In addition to the neat little piles of new acquisitions on my apartment coffee table, I kept the library books I was also checking out “just to look at.”  Unsurprisingly, overextension in every direction meant unproductivity in any direction, and it meant too often that those optimistically purchased or borrowed books got read hastily or not at all.  I worked multiple jobs and earned a stipend and kept myself afloat, but largely because the bubble of credit card expenditures lifted me artificially high.   I alternated between exuberance and comfort and choking panic when I looked at all my books.  So much hope and possibility.  So much obligation I feared I’d never live up to.  So much enthusiasm.  So much fear.  Fueled by promises and hard work and following through and discovering but also by a series of white lies, especially to myself, that got darker and darker: I’ll get a job and pay all this back.  It’ll be okay.  I’m only twenty-____.  I have a lot of time.  

As hard as it is to admit this now, I tell this story (especially to students and twentysomething friends) to emphasize how common it is and how quickly what seem like defensible choices can turn into something else you never meant to happen.  I’ve spent the years from job to tenure fighting to pay down that debt and get these old habits under control and feel now that I have, as much as any habits ever are under control.  Every year I get better at evaluating purchases and possessions by the truth of my own instincts and emotions, not others’ expectations: do I really like and want this in my life as it is right now, or is what I’m feeling some borrowed emotion or obligation? Will I still want this in a week? Do I feel a sense of real pleasure and possibility when I look at this, or do I feel primarily ‘I should do something with this?’ [‘Should,’ I’ve learned, tells me that something’s probably not going to happen.]  The book-buying has continued, but so now has the book-giving-away.  This past month I gave away six big boxes of books, from my office and from home.  When  I saw how many of those books were practically new, good scholarly editions bought in fits of conference or dissertation optimism and barely (or never) opened, I thought about the anxious girl who bought them, and I forgave her.  It’s okay.  You have enough now, and will continue to have enough.  And that’s what it’s really all about: let your frontal lobe talk to the rest of your brain about reality, the person you actually are and the life and career you actually have and want.  Let yourself settle down and look at what is, and leave space for the good things still to come.

Posted in attention, home, money, resilience, stuff, technology | 6 Comments