Category Archives: Community

Of legends and fuck-ups

The other day I had to write a difficult email. And then another. It was a part of a conversation that was, in large part, me processing the end of my recent relationship with Kaleesha. In the course of writing it occurred to me that there was much I had never shared with her. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to share it so much as I thought I’d have time. Why rush to share every detail of my life. I figured that in time I’d have occasion to share naturally as things came up. The truth is that she did much of the talking during our first year as she was processing her journey out of religion. And when she wasn’t talking she was crying. She even wrote a book about that journey. It as an intense and interesting time and I was happy to have been a part of the process. We talked a lot less in our second years as other people came into our lives. That’s another story for another time.

The point of this particular story is to begin a recounting of some of the memories that surfaced as I wrote her. Earlier today I was out walking my new canine companion Cosmo and I mulled over a particular paragraph in one of the above mentioned emails. In particular I was responding to something she’d written that hinted that I was settled down. That adventure and growth was no longer a priority for me but that it was for her. Well, it made me angry. Perhaps I’m sensitive  because while I’m a bit older than her, at 46 I’m far from joining the Fuddy Duddy club.   But the more I thought about it, not just who and where I am now but who I’ve been, my anger turned into a kind of amusement. I had a pretty good chuckle at myself. I’m a fucking legend. Well, my college advisor once told me that I was a legendary fuck-up. Does that count? Probably not.

I’ve decided it’s time to write down a few things that I’ve probably not shared with family or friends. I know for a fact that much of what I might write will be news to my family and at the very least I’d like them to know these things. Not that I’m anything special, but as much as I want to know my fellow humans it’s also nice to be known. It’s nice to share and I think I’ve lived an interesting life, or, at least an unconventional life. I might make this a series of posts over the next few weeks. Of course, I often contemplate such themed posts but never get around to it.  But this is the first time in a long while that I’ve really felt the urge to write. Maybe it will stick. I think I’ll leave out the racy scenes for the moment. Not sure I should really get into that. Ha! Maybe I should. Any good story that purports to be about a legendary life should include a bit of the spicy stuff, no? I’ll contemplate that.

Perhaps this will serve as an overview and future posts might be an elaboration? Sure, that sounds doable. So, what kinds of activities and life choices might be examples of an unconventional life? Let me offer up this as a sampling:

I’ve been to jail for pirate radio broadcasting on a rooftop and I’ve had to kick beer guzzling pirate punk rockers out of my home. I’ve lived with beer guzzling pirate punk rockers.  I once woke up to a flaming couch outside my door and then proceeded to drag said couch until my fingers blistered and bled to keep my house from burning down. It wasn’t just smoldering, it was in full on flames. I’ve been in sweat lodges and fed hundreds of homeless people. During my time doing work for political prisoner Leonard Peltier I camped outside a federal building for a week and quite literally told the FBI to go fuck itself. I’ve drummed  and marched with thousands of people at multiple rallies in DC and helped kids in Memphis fix their flat tires.   I’ve helped make two documentary films and been on the crew of various others. I once took a midnight tour of the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Eeeeeerie. They were closed but we were outside showing some traveling activist friends where Martin Luther King was assassinated  and the guard came outside and invited us in. Maybe he did that all the time for anyone but we felt pretty special. I’ve literally faced down a screaming, hooded clansman and been teargassed by the police. I’ve interviewed rockstars on their tour bus (do Chumbawamba count as rockstars?) and helped teach illiterate adults how to read. I’ve helped put in at least 7 different community gardens. I’ve organized conferences and taken phone calls in the middle of the night from someone issuing threats through a voice altering device. I helped found a housing co-op that I lived in for 5 years during which time I lived with over 50 different housemates and hosted 240+ travelers and two different activist oriented conferences.  I’ve raised a baby deer and seen it return to the wild to have it’s own babies. I’ve raised my own poultry and on a couple of occasions butchered them for food. I helped organize two indy film festivals. I helped found and run a micro-radio (pirate radio) station for 2 years. Said station ran out of our home and hosted 50+ volunteer DJs during it’s time on the air. I once misjudged the duration of an acid trip and ended up working  my first night as a barista at a coffee shop at the peak. I pulled it off and went on to co-manage the shop a few months later.

Maybe I’m still hallucinating but I don’t think that’s a typical list of life activities. And it’s just a small sampling. I just wish I’d had an iPhone for that period of my life so I’d better remember more of it. And to emphasize, this isn’t so much as a self-congratulatory pat on the back or bragging about past deeds so much as my not wanting to forget them. And also as a way to be better known. Many might look at that list and see things to be ashamed of. It is what it is. For the most part I don’t regret my life choices. I’ve made more than my share of mistakes but a life without mistakes is probably not very well lived. I believe in the notion of admitting a bit of foolishness into our lives and, even more, celebrating it (hat tip to Steve Jobs).

To make sense of any accounting of deeds and misdeeds it often makes sense to order it as a chronology of sorts. It seems smart to start when things took a turn from the typical and that was, for me, college at Truman State University. Why don’t we start with  that cranky advisor that I mentioned above. He thought I was goofing off far too much. He thought I could and should take academics far more seriously. Maybe he was right. I was working on my BA in anthropology from 1987 to 1992 and for much of that time I was more concerned with my budding identity as an activist. My upbringing was basically very similar to an episode of the Simpsons in that we lived in suburbia and my parents were not very political or religious. I could pick any number of other examples of suburban family life portrayed in popular culture but the point is that it was a pretty average life that emphasized the usual for suburban middle America. Within the context of this typical life I, as an individual, was pretty laid back and not all that adventurous. And totally unaware politically. I had little idea about the workings of government or the historical evolution of culture and politics in the U.S. or anywhere. I thought Ronald Reagan was a swell guy.

Antioch College students visited the deCleyre co-op two years in a row for
their environmental racism and justice summer course. 2001

In my time at university I took a big step away from the person I’d been growing up and not just in the usual ways that college kids do. I did the usual and then I kept going. By the third year of college I’d concluded that I didn’t care much about a good job or accumulating wealth. I’d wager this was a bit of a shock to my family as I think their initial and primary motivation in encouraging me to attend college was that I might have better “career” opportunities. For them it was about my earning potential and better employment. I’d guess that this is the norm for the parents of college kids and for most college kids. The focus is getting the degree so that a better paying career  might be had. For me college was the beginning of life long learning, activism and poverty. Well, financial poverty but that was by choice.

It was chance, perhaps, that got me off on the left foot  because I was randomly assigned a biography of Gandhi for freshman orientation for which I was suppose to give some sort of report at a session of said orientation. This was the story of an unconventional life and it stuck to me right off. That’s right, Gandhi was like a big wad of HubbaBubba bubblegum  stuck to my shoe. Not that I tried to pry him off. I was content to have him stuck in. His story proved to be just the first seed in a series that would take root in my mind and begin to open my perspective up to a different kind of life. I was corrupted by an adorable little Indian guy that also happened to kick ass (in a very nonviolent sort of way of course).

Within that first year I’d begun attending meetings of the “World Peace Group” and Amnesty International.  By the third year I’d discovered the Greens and the Green Party. I’d attended the only environmental club on campus that was focused on recycling and decided they were far too limited, too narrow in scope. I wanted something that addressed not just the “environment” but something more encompassing that went at the social root of ecological problems.  I opted to start my own organization based on the larger green movement and simply called it the Northeast Missouri Greens. It was my first step into a process that would lead to a fundamental and radical shift on my understanding of what it meant to be a human being as well as what it meant to be a citizen. I’d never organized anything or spoken in front of a group of people. The room was overflowing at our first meeting and it probably goes without saying that I was a nervous wreck as I spoke to 40+ people, many of whom I’d never met. That was the beginning of my identity as a radical “organizer” and a personal evolution that continued for for over a decade and which continues in some ways today. I’m no longer involved with radical community organizing but as recently as 2010 was active in a local “mainstreet” revitalization organization in our local town. My hope then was to guide the group towards the “Transition Town” model of organization. Sadly the group disbanded after disagreements regarding how to address problems with the local police force. One of our last projects was the creation of a local space for art and culture which hosted poetry readings and art openings as well as discussion groups and even a dance party. Good times.


Since 2012 our little community (within the larger community) has evolved. Our activities, open to all, range from monthly community potlucks to star parties. For awhile I did a series of astronomy presentations at the local library but that’s been on a hiatus for over a year. The point though is that while my personal life is no longer one of a green-anarchist activist in a college town or city, it is still one of engagement. While I’m not opposed to participating in a protest or activities of a more radical nature my role of late has been to try to nurture the practice of creating community, specifically a community of people that tend towards skepticism, atheism and science. It seems like a good counter to the anti-rational and often anti-science culture of religious rural Missouri.

In a way that is a summary of it all with a bit of the beginning and a bit of the end or, more accurately, the present. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the details of the adventures that happened in the middle. The stuff of legend? I may have exaggerated but I will say that at the very least it has been an adventure.

Oh, and for the record,  I’ve known people well into their “golden” years who have persisted in living full lives in every way they possibly are able. I intend to be one of those. Life is meant for living and if I’m going to take up space on this planet I’ll not waste it. So, as I do age, I’ll not be one that pretends otherwise. Aging is a part of the process. But I’ll also not be one that stops adventuring. Not unless I have to and as long as I have some mental clarity, well, I won’t have to.

Exploring the Universe Together

NGC 4594, the Sombrero Galaxy

Recently Kaleesha put up a pretty fantastic couple of posts. The first, Creation, the Big Bang or Both? is one in which she shares her current attempts to better understand the Big Bang. It has been very interesting to read about her intellectual journey since her rejection of Christianity several months ago and inspiring to see her push on in her search for truth. In her second post, Astronomical Scattershooting (what a great phrase, eh?), she provided a wonderful description of her current explorations of the universe as an amateur astronomer. My  post here is something that grew out of my initial comment to her on her blog.

What I enjoy most about being an amateur astronomer is learning about the Universe through a blended process of observing distant objects  and then reading about those objects in the Wikipedia which is usually supplemented by a related episode of Astronomy Cast.  It adds so much to my life to be able to look up through a telescope and view the Sombrero galaxy, to really take it in and ponder its existence.  I wonder, who may be there and are they looking out in this direction?  In my last viewing of that galaxy I spent nearly 30 minutes allowing my eyes to adjust and taking the time to notice the details. After a time of looking through the scope and seeing so many beautiful objects, supplemented by the research, I can say that now when I look up with my naked eyes I see it all very differently. There is now a deeper awareness brewing in me, fermenting knowledge, of the details and I more fully appreciate what I see and the emotions I experience as a result.

But of course we don’t explore this Universe alone do we? At the forefront we have a global community of scientists cooperating and collaborating and challenging one another through this amazing process we call science. This open community, based on finding the mistakes and correcting the theories and adding in the details as they are discovered with newer, better instrumentation, sets the example for how we can better get at the truth. It is a never ending process, an ongoing adventure and exploration of our Universe and one we can all take part in. Those of us that are not scientists have a role as well.

As citizens of our planet it is our responsibility to make our own effort to learn and to explore. It is our responsibility to reach out, to share and engage with one another and with the knowledge being produced. The internet is allowing for increased communication between the public and the scientific community. For those interested in astronomy and related fields there are the sites I mentioned a couple days ago: CosmoQuest,  the Planetary Society and the Citizen Science Alliance, all of which have at their core mission an attempt to engage the public and even to create a space for them to participate. Most of these groups are also involved with Google+ hangouts which allow for real-time video conferencing with the scientists doing the work. If you can’t be around to watch live they are all archived on YouTube. For example, here’s the Planetary Society’s Channel.

There is an essential trait that we need to borrow from the scientific community before we can move forward: a willingness to embrace our mistakes and our ignorance. It seems to have become a common cultural trait to fear our fallibility but such fear holds us back from moving forward as individuals as well as collectively. Not so in the scientific community which is based upon a willingness to fail and a recognition that with failure comes knowledge and a better understanding of the Universe. It is in the moment of embracing failure, mistakes, and ignorance that we grow.

It is perhaps one of the great failings of the past 60 years that we have come to think of ourselves as alone and with that we have come to feel isolated, alienated. In that kind of world it is easy to become fearful and when we live in a culture of fear and insecurity we tend to avoid failure. We avoid growth out of fear of failure and we avoid accepting our mistakes because to do so is to admit we are fallible.

Fortunately, for us, the Universe that we actually inhabit is not one in which we can ever be alone or alienated, at least not physically. We might come to feel separated and alone in our minds due to our perception and our culture, but as far as the reality of the physical Universe that we live in, we are all very much connected:

When I look up at the night sky and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than most of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up — many people feel small, because they’re small, the Universe is big — but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity — that’s really what you want in life. You want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant. You want to feel like you’re a participant in the goings on and activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive.” – Neil DeGrasse Tyson

It is natural for us to share what we know or think we know and it is natural for us to be curious. It is these natural desires, coupled with critical thought and the scientific method that we can lift ourselves up and, just as importantly, lift one another up. We have great challenges before us but in teaching one another and encouraging one another we can do remarkable things. In our cooperation we have the opportunity to co-create something beautiful: each other.

We truly are in this together. There is no such thing as alone in this Universe and the sooner we remember that, feel that, and understand that, the sooner we can get on being whole again. We are but one species sharing this planet sharing this cosmos. I did not know Kaleesha or her husband or children until just a couple months ago and am thankful to Bill (another of our community and local librarian) for sending them my way when they indicated interest in astronomy. As a result they have become an important part of our little outpost of science advocates in this out of the way rural community. As long as I’m expressing my appreciation I think I’ll also mention how happy I am to have connected to Frances, Russ, Angie and Karen, all humans with which I am grateful to have met since moving to this little corner of the Universe and who have shared the exploration with me.

A vintage desk, cooperatively built

How appropriate that my recently purchased used desk was made by a furniture co-op?! It is a beautiful desk that seems to been made in the 1970s. Now that I know this about the company I appreciate the desk even more. This fall when the weather cools I’ll be giving it a light sanding and will give it a new clearcoat to protect it. From their website:

Community Playthings has always manufactured products right here in the United States. It all started in 1947 in an old barn in Georgia, supporting a little cooperative community. Not long after, the co-op joined a larger group in New York and brought the business with them. Today, the “community” in Community Playthings is a group of families who earn their living crafting toys and furniture for children. We manufacture primarily in New York and Pennsylvania, with wood responsibly harvested from the Northeastern U.S.

I will add that I think that it is products like this that we need to be building in the United States. Built by a cooperative, demonstrating a high quality of workmanship and made of sustainably harvested wood! We often speak of products as “goods” but they are not always good. In this case I think the term fits.

 

First Friday in the new Gallery!

First Friday.jpg

It’s been just over a month since we got the keys to the space at 120 West Main and in that time a great team of 12 or so volunteers have put in well over 160 hours transforming it into the new Gallery. We’ve painted, cleaned, removed carpet and more. We’re taking care of some last minute details tonight and then will be hanging art in the next day or so. Come join us for our first art opening in the new Gallery! First Friday Fredericktown is an art opening, potluck, poetry reading and live music the first Friday of each month. This month we’ll be showcasing art from local artists Jami Knight, Abi Borrego, Kathryn Buff, Julie Miller and Corey Warner as well as St. Louis artist Aime Oberheim.

It’s exciting to have a real space in Fredericktown to display art and host music, poetry and community potlucks. From June through October Fredericktown Revitalization will also be hosting movies and live music in the park on North Main. The Farmers Market will also be there. Our plan is to build the event into a community block party during the warmer summer months with opportunities for any organization or business to sponsor events/games. Chalk art, horse shoes, karaoke and quite a few things have been discussed.

Solar Air Heater!

Solar Hot Air Heater!

The new solar air heater leaning up against the well/shower house where it will likely be installed as it is a near perfect south facing wall. Thermometer reading after just a minute behind the air outlet? 100 degrees and that’s with outside air of 48. NICE! My guess is that this would easily heat our little shower house to a comfortable 70+ degrees on sunny days during the winter. A big thanks to Rick for building it!

Update 1: Went back out to get another temperature reading, 110 degrees! From what I’ve read online they can be expected to output air between 100-130 degrees or more on sunny days. Even on cloudy days they will put out air that will warm a space though obviously not as effectively.

Update 2: As of this update (1pm) it is 50 degrees outside and the current reading is 120+ (my thermometer tops out at 120) that’s a 70 + degree gain.

So, cost on these, is 4×8 plywood, 2×4, paint, caulk, silicone, tempered glass assuming it is all bought new probably $100-150. My guesstimate is that in one winter the savings on electricity would be $300-500 depending on the use scenario. Cost on keeping our well/shower house heated to 50 degrees this winter has probably been $60-80, maybe more. To keep it heated to 75 for comfortable shower house temps would have been MUCH higher, easily $200+ as it would require an actual heater, not just the two heat lamps I currently use. Using the solar air heater, I think we’ll be able to keep this structure heated to at least 75 on sunny days, for free next winter.

Simple Life, Community Life

Big CrappieAround 5 pm yesterday my uncle Ron (and neighbor) showed up at my door with a very large fish, a 16 inch Crappie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Crappie of that size. As he walked up I thought he was carrying a good sized bass. He offered him up and I happily accepted. I’d planned on having a bit of pesto pasta for dinner and now that would be complimented with fried fish. I watched the sunset while I ate and listened to the emerging frog song and the chickens as they wandered off slowly towards their coop. I was just about finished when Petunia (the deer) showed up for an evening snack of corn and a sprinkle of chicken scratch.
Pesto pasta and fried fish
I’ve happily lived well below the poverty line for my entire adult life and have always been very content with living small or in shared spaces with others. Of course this is easier with no children but is still entirely possible with them as I’ve confirmed with a bit of research. But it requires a different outlook on life. I’m not the least bit interested in a huge house full of material possessions. That generally requires a life long commitment to wage slavery. Give me a part time job or freelance work and I’ll enjoy the free time gardening or working on a community project. I can’t enjoy the pesto if I don’t grow the basil and sharing it at a potluck almost always makes it taste better!

Strangely enough living the “simple life” allows for the freedom to become a much more complex person through on-going self-reflection and education. This is not to say that those with large houses and full time employment cannot continue to learn, but to say that there is something important about the pace of living. When I lived in Memphis I mostly got around by walking or riding a bike. Yes, it took me longer to get where I was going but along the way I picked figs and literally stopped to smell the roses. I learned the local bird population and met neighbors. I also got the health benefits of the exercise.

Out there in the nation trouble continues to brew. The fundamentals of the economic/financial/energy system have not changed and we’re still headed for collapse. The political system of the country, guided by corporate media, become more divisive and less constructive. It is a system which has served the wealthy elite for far too long but most working people, be they “conservative” or “liberal” don’t seem to get the fact that they are being used. The two party system should be destroyed. Our sense and understanding of what is possible is far too limited. We’re letting ourselves be emotionally manipulated by a cultural process designed to divide and herd us around like livestock.

I think we need to slow down. We need to stop listening to the party lines, stop aligning ourselves with the party lines. We need to remember what it is like to be humans. We need to remember what it is like to grow and harvest food and then to share it in community. We need to remember what it is to feel connected in community. Community is like a complex tapestry with many weavers. We all share the task and add our bits, we weave it together. It is our work, comfort and support and it tells our history as well. It’s long past the time that we get back to this task and that we remember that it is up to us to do it well. It is up to us to do it together.

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Geek in the Garden

Please excuse this momentary lapse into a bit of geekitude. A few years back I started using geekinthegarden for email and various account user names because I was, after all a geek who spend a good bit of his time in the garden. These past two years living at the homestead I’ve been much less a geek and more a gardener. In fact, a big part of my push to move to the homestead was to get my hands back into the soil and to finally learn more about permaculture and put it into practice. Beginning in 2005 I’d started to see a pileup of evidence that peak oil and general collapse were finally at the door and felt it was time to get serious about growing my own food.

As I’ve gotten a bit more involved in town via the Fredericktown Revitalization and in working with the city on their website this past winter I found myself at the computer more often and have really enjoyed the work. I’ve built a few new websites as well as a pretty extensive FileMaker database. Something that I’ve really taken note of is the lack of local utilization of technology by the small businesses and non-profits around main street. Most people know the basics but VERY FEW get beyond the web browser. I’ve met lots of folks that could benefit from knowing more about the available tools. Small businesses should not be tracking inventory with a spiral bound notebook in 2010.

It was easy to sit at the computer during the cold days of winter but now that the weather has warmed it is increasingly difficult and the internal conflict has gotten me thinking a bit about the future. What is the role of technology in our lower energy future. Is this kind of work to build the digital literacy of a community a wasted effort given the kind of future we have coming? Just how important will laptops and iPads be in two years? Five years? What about websites, spreadsheets and databases? While I really like the idea of sharing the knowledge I have about these kinds of digital tools spring suddenly reminds me that this is the time to grow food. Should I also be shifting my community time in the same direction?

I’m also thinking about this in the larger context of the FRI and the larger Main Street movement. I strongly support the general idea of building the local economy as well as the preservation of historical main street architecture. Neighborhood and main street revitalization is a good thing but there should be a balance in our efforts to build (or rebuild) the local economy within the context of a limited energy future. Peak oil is here and will only become more obvious. Have I spent too much time thinking about building/stabilizing the local economy and not enough time thinking about the local food and energy system? I realize that it does not have to be either/or, there can be a balance. When I joined up with the FRI I knew it was a Main Street group and had (have) no problem with that but I was more interested in the Transition Towns idea. Main Street is in the right direction but I’m impatient with our lack of progress and what often times seems to be a lack of interest in the local business community.

As an anarchist I’m not all that interested in the profit motive or volunteering my time to help others make a profit. I don’t have a local business, they do. They don’t seem to understand the interconnection between their business and their community. That said, I AM interested in building the self reliance and resilience of the local community and that means working with business owners to some degree. I suppose what this post comes down to is that I’m trying to find a balance in how I spend my time. I’m wondering what folks in this community want and need most, trying to understand how I can have the most meaningful impact.

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In Transition 1.0

In Transition 1.0 is Now Available!! » Transition Culture: “‘In Transition’ is the first detailed film about the Transition movement filmed by those that know it best, those who are making it happen on the ground. The Transition movement is about communities around the world responding to peak oil and climate change with creativity, imagination and humour, and setting about rebuilding their local economies and communities. It is positive, solutions focused, viral and fun.”

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