Thursday, January 28, 2010

What We're Reading Now #2

Please forgive our silence over the past two months.  The holidays usually throw us for a bit of a loop around here, but our brains have now returned to our desks and workbenches. 

That said, we have been reading in the interim (and now we're writing)! 

Two Coots in a Canoe: An Unusual Story of Friendship, by David E. Morine

This is a non-fiction account of a canoe trip down 400 miles of the Connecticut River, commencing in Vermont and ending at Long Island Sound. The crew is a pair of friends in their 60s who haven't seen each other in years. Feeling too old for the trials of camping, they decide to mooch free lodging, arranged in advance, with volunteers along their route. Morine and his companion are opposites in character and their conflicts, many of them humorous, make for entertaining reading as do their interviews with the people they lodge with. Much of the dialog revolves around conservation and ecology, with vivid descriptions of both the beauty of the river and the ways in which it and the territory along its course have been damaged or destroyed by human enterprise.

Slow is Beautiful-New Visions of Community, Leisure, And Joie de Vivre, by Cecile Andrews

If ever I read a book that confirms my vision of Mindport's mission, this is it. The author, Cecile Andrews and her husband are founders of Seattle's Phinney Ecovillage, a sustainable urban community. Obviously, I found much to resonate with in this book, and it stimulated serious thinking, especially about the expression "Joie de Vivre" (Joy of Life). Here's an excerpt from my journal:

" I can't say that "joie de vivre" has always accurately described my orientation. I picture that expression as personifying someone who jumps gaily out of bed every morning, just full of ---- and vinegar, wildly excited to greet the birds and the sun, and to get on with the day's tasks. I wish! Maybe, rather than referring to an attitude of constant buoyancy (how exhausting!), this means that one maintains an awareness of the non-ordinariness of the ordinary and an appreciation for the miraculousness of existence, even though it can be damn terrifying and not at all pleasant at times."

I've always hoped that Mindport would inspire something like joie de vivre in our visitors. We certainly attempt to live up to many of the precepts Andrews mentions in her book, especially the Beauty of Slowness, which I interpret not so much to mean slow, but rather to take time for mindful engagement with one's life and work. This necessarily requires you to slow down, limit the multitasking and the greedy attempt to do everything that presents itself as a possibility. To me, leading a good life is about intelligent limitation. It's with this in mind that we tell visitors and even ourselves, don't be miffed if we don't seem to respond to your suggestions and ideas. There's just too much comin' at us to respond to everything, and it takes time for ideas to digest and work themselves into Mindport's flow of activity.

Andrews addresses the habit of perfectionism, which is something that comes up frequently at Mindport, and which I think about a good deal myself. For example there's always a compromise to be made between building an exhibit perfectly, and building it in a reasonable amount of time. An excess of perfection, when applied to artwork, often culminates in a sterile creation. Exhibits we put out for view at Mindport are often imperfect, simply because it's impossible to anticipate how they will interact with visitors, and which vulnerabilities will become apparent after a few weeks on the floor. Our exhibits are often far from perfect. If they were perfect, they'd never break. But I've observed that there's often an inverse relationship between robustness in an exhibit and the amount of interest it inspires. In other words, indestructible exhibits are frequently not very interesting. This is why we beg visitors to treat our exhibits gently. They ARE vulnerable. They and WE appreciate your mindful indulgence!

Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness, by Lisa Hamilton

Hamilton, a journalist and photographer lived in close quarters with three farmers who had converted to sustainable farming for business and personal reasons. Hamilton describes the characters of her subjects, a Texas Dairyman, a rancher in New Mexico, and a North Dakotan farming family with an intimacy that evokes a feeling of personal involvement with their lives. Her vivid descriptions of the countryside reveal her photographer's eye for detail, a quality which those, like myself, who revel in physical setting, will find alluring.

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of Hamilton's book is its perspective on the dynamic by which nearly everything small, intimate, local, and beautiful becomes co-opted and destroyed by "economy of scale." Better to say, the false economy of scale. These three farm operations only survive by a thread, and due only to the dedication of their owners to an ideal, along with their reluctance to give up work that they love for its own sake. There's inspiration here, reminding us that it's worth our while to fight "the system," even if we must sacrifice comfort and ease in order to do so.

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