Feeling the need for a family fix and a couple of good granny meals, I decided to motor off to the rich province to the west for Easter weekend. Then, being conditioned to multi-tasking, I figured I’d kill two birds by picking up some hand-me-down furniture for my new place en route. So I increased my carbon footprint dramatically by renting a ridiculously gigantic cargo van and hurtling several hundred kilometres in a giant loop, from Regina over to Calgary, then up to Edmonton, across to Wainwright, and then back around, through Saskatoon and back home.

I carpooled as far as Moose Jaw with Dave and Al, and then drove the long haul to my home-town, arriving late the first night to the land of Black Gold wealth and real estate mania. I don’t really relate to Calgary very well anymore, so it was OK that my visit was a short one. But it was a delight to see Pammy, one of my oldest friends. She’d been holding a mighty gift for me ever since I left home for university, and this past weekend I finally got to cash in on it: a giant cowgirl armchair, with half-wagon wheels for a frame and a great bull’s head emblazoned on a green vinyl chair back. We hauled it out of her basement (breaking off a piece in the process…it’ll glue) and into the van. Then I got invited into the garage to dig around in boxes and collect more loot. Score.

Then it was back on the road. Destination number two was Edmonton, where I was treated to a Filipino feast and birthday cheesecake, and left with family heirlooms including my great-grandmother’s wooden rocking chair, an antique bookshelf, an old wooden footstool (which I also have a miniature version of that my grandfather built for my dollhouse), some serious artwork, and a bunch of other good loot. After that my dad joined me on the third leg of the journey to Wainwright to visit the (ailing but lovely) grandparentals, eat more decadent food (lots of meat, mashed potatoes, turnip puff, aspic, etc.), and drive out to the lake cottage to score an antique office chair and a delightfully rustic and unnecessary dresser.

Not the most relaxing Easter holiday on record, but it did serve the joint purpose of furniture and family. Before I knew it I was back on the road for the last leg of my whirlwind furnishing adventure. Unfortunately, about halfway between Saskatoon and Regina I was in a full-on blizzard. Yup. April in Western Canada. I am so ready for spring.

But for now I’ll have to satisfy myself with my new-to-me furniture, and the delight at having survived my epic cargo van journey through the brown bland almost-spring prairie. Hopefully by this weekend I’ll be close to fully moved in to my new place. And then in a few short weeks my mom leaves her idyllic Vancouver Island home to do her horticulture practicum landscaping my new garden. Yes, bizarre. More on that to come, as well as pics of the most excellent new-to-me furnishings.

xo n

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Subverting Overconsumption will be getting a wee mention (an indirect one, but fun nonetheless) on CBC Radio One’s Definitely Not The Opera tomorrow between 1 and 1:30pm. It’s part of my friend Krista Baliko’s Juno Takeover. Fun! Unfortunately, I anticipate that my radio voice will, as per usual, sound like a five-year-old’s, but oh well.

xo n

I don’t think I’m really grasping this meme thing, but I’ll take a stab at it:

Adekun tagged me for a 5 things meme, which I gather means I’m supposed to divulge 5 things about myself and then tag 5 other blogs. And then Solnushka tagged me for the Thinking Blogger award meme (thanks!), which I guess means I’m now meant to mention 5 blogs I would nominate for such an award. Am I understanding this right? Is this some sort of exercise in viral marketing? Luckily I’m a good marketer.

I’m going to save time by combining the two. So first come the 5 things, followed by the 5 Thinking Blogs:

1) My favourite genre of movie is Action

2) I’m a sucker for the trumpet

3) This sort of exercise stresses me out

4) I don’t like cake

5) My favourite TV show is America’s Next Top Model (oooh, that one hurts)

Now for some good Thinking Blogs (whatever that means…I’m not entirely sure…but here goes):

dodosville.blogspot.com

obsessiveconsumption.com (not really a blog…well, I guess it’s an artblog…she drew all her purchases for 28 months…and she has an amazing series of Dead Mall photographs…good site)

www.briarpatchmagazine.com/news (conflict of interest, yes, but oh well)

homefordinner.blogspot.com (year round local eating in Saskatchewan…serious thinking required)

blogmichaelbell.blogspot.com (how could I overlook a blog that features such an incredible vid as this?):

xo n

Ok, I guess I needed more of a break than I thought. It’s been a good while since I posted (like, the last post was on the subject of hockey sticks, and now shinny season is well over). A few factors contributed to my long silence: 1) my job is kicking me in the ass and it’s been exhausting and depressing me, 2) buying a house is stressful and expensive; and 3) discovering a creepy ex commenting to the blog under false name and pretenses spooked me.

Basically, whatever was going on over the last few weeks was not good conducive to a positive state of mind, and I had nothing constructive to share whatsoever. Actually, I couldn’t think of anything to say at all. So I said nothing, and nothing, and more of nothing.

But here I am, feeling a little better, and ready to say something again.

For the moment I’ll stick to the celebratory: today I took possession of my house. House buying is so weird. I hadn’t seen the inside of my house for six weeks, and over that time I’d become increasingly panicked and convinced that I wouldn’t like it anymore and that buying it was a bad idea and that it would send me into financial ruin and that my neighbours would be terrible etc., etc., etc.

And then I got there today and it was so beautiful and sunlit, and the snow had melted off the backyard to expose a giant sunny garden plot. And the previous owners must somehow have known that I am buying nothing new this year, because they were nice enough to leave me two kitchen chairs, a plunger, a broom, a snow shovel, a rake, and even a couch!

I love my house, and I can’t wait to move in! And since it’s mine and I get to stock it exactly as I see fit, I’ve decided to bid adieu to the nasty chemical cleaning products that I’ve always known (good riddance Comet, Pinesol and Windex!). So today I went armed with my brand new natural cleaning products and proceeded to lovingly scrub the fridge and cupboards. Who knew that baking soda, lemon juice, soap flakes and water would go so far? Thanks Greenpeace! Check it out:

All-Purpose Cleaner
1/2 cup (125 ml) pure soap
1 gallon (4 litres) hot water
For a clean scent and to help cut grease add 1/4 cup (60 ml) of lemon juice.
This solution is safe for all surfaces, should be rinsed with water, and is very effective for most jobs. For a stronger cleaner, double the amounts of soap and lemon juice.

Scouring Powder
Use a firm bristle brush and scrub with pure soap combined with either table salt or baking soda.
Baking soda alone on a damp sponge is also effective on most surfaces. You can also personalize your scouring powder by adding an aromatic herb or flower. Put the ingredients in a blender and run until the fragrance has infused the powder.
For oven spills, scrub using straight baking soda or combine with the stronger version of the all purpose cleaner.
Remember to wear gloves when scrubbing.

Liquid Dish Soap
Grate a bar of pure soap into a sauce pan. Cover with water and simmer over low heat until they melt together. Add some vinegar to the water for tough grease and to remove spots. Pour into a container and use as you would any liquid dishwashing soap.

Mirrors, Glass and Windows
Wash with pure soap and water, rinse with a solution of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water. Use washable, reusable cheese cloth instead of paper towels.
I scrubbed my fridge til it gleamed, ate my first meal, poked around and investigated every corner and cupboard. I love my house. Tomorrow some nice friendly folks are going to help me move some belongings in. Then I will treat them to another excellent recipe:

Jagarillas
1 part Jagarmeister
2 parts organic root beer
ice

So there you have it. I have lots of other things to say again, so rest assured that you’ll hear from me again before long.

xo n

I’m just about to celebrate 20 weeks of Subverting Overconsumption, bringing me well over a third of the way through my project of buying nothing new for a year. Unfortunatey I seem to have hit a bumpy patch on the road, and though there’s not much to do but keep going, I’m not feeling all that happy about it.

It’s like this interminable Canadian prairie winter: March 1st hits, and what started as just a few months of cold weather suddenly turns unbearable. The thought of enduring one more night of freezing feet or one more wind-bitten walk to work is just too much to handle.

Subverting Overconsumption is feeling similar. It’s not that what I’ve set out to do is that hard – I’ve stuck to my plan, and the result has been a significant increase in my awareness of what I consume, how and why. But at the moment I seem to have hit a wall where everything about it just feels uninspired and irritating.

Case in point: when I moved out of my old place I had to leave the left-shooting house hockey stick behind. Now I’m without, so I’ve tried the regular stuff: posting it to my Wish List and to Freecycle, visiting the local used sports equipment store, etc. But to no avail. No stick wants to find me.

When I had to endure a trip to Canadian Tire to help a friend pick out her own shiny new stick, I couldn’t help wondering what the purpose of me not buying a stick actually is. I mean, my rationale is still rational: though I consume plenty, I like that new goods aren’t being manufactured just for me when there is more than enough perfectly good stuff already in existence to reuse. But the sound of my voice explaining to friends that I can’t come out to play for lack of stick is increasingly grating, and in the meantime I’m getting less exercise, breathing less fresh air, and having less fun for my trouble.

I guess I’m in the whiny phase of Subverting Overconsumption. It’ll probably pass. I mean, I’m certainly not bored with life…there are a million more radical things I want to do as a result of starting by buying nothing new. Maybe I’m just at the part where I realize that what I’ve committed to isn’t enough, but what I think I might want to commit to next is too scary to say out loud. For now I just want a fricking hockey stick.

Sticklessly yours, n

Though I’m getting a lot better at not taking criticism personally, I do take it seriously, and dealing with it on my two blogs this week has been pretty exhausting. So I’m going to take a little break by blocking comments and not posting for the next week. In the meantime, I’ve been reflecting on what the purpose of these online spaces is for me. Here are some of my thoughts – they’re very much a work in progress, but if you feel like taking a few minutes to read them, great. If you have comments, even better! Just save them, let them percolate, and if your comment still feels important, respectful and honest in a week, please post it then.

Having my ass kicked by people this week has had the effect of making me ask myself what the point of these blogs are. Is it to espouse my view of the world? Is it to hear myself talk? What is it that I believe in that compels me to write about what I am experiencing and learning in my life?

Asking myself what I believe in is hard. Because I don’t have mega faith in ether of the Big Two human inventions (God or Science) that are so important to contemporary human identify, I often feel lost. And yet, upon reflection I was interested and surprised to discover that I do have some faith kicking around in this heart of mine.

I believe in the capacity of humans to change. Hearing David Suzuki speak this week helped me to clarify this. He believes that the human ability to conceptualize the future and act to shape it actually defines our humanity and separates us from all the other animals on earth. This idea called “the future” doesn’t actually exist, but through our intentions and actions, humans have the power to use possibility to impact our reality.

Change happens to us no matter what we do, but the potential to use possibility to shape reality adds a consciously directed component to change that results in a definition of “learning” that works for me. In other words, learning is conscious change. Strangely, I realized (just today!) that my belief in the capacity of humans to learn (i.e., consciously change) is also my definition of hope: the belief in the possibility of a different future, in the possibility of change. And I believe in that. So I guess I have hope. Who knew? For a long time I was quite certain I didn’t.

But this hope, this belief in the human capacity to change, is pretty passive. There’s also this other troublesome thing that is more active – this belief that it is necessary for humanity to change.

Clarifying these driving forces for me is also leading to a better understanding of why I write about my life. The capacity for change is huge for me, but it all begins with my own potential to learn, and with the belief that my own ongoing change is necessary. Though events are often out of my control, with great commitment and discipline I have the capacity to consciously direct my thoughts and actions. But the change I’m talking about is not a switch that can be turned on or off. Change is a process – a never-ending combined series of thoughts, actions and events that shape our lives and the world. The process of learning is limitless and ongoing.

My purpose in writing these blogs is to document this process in my life. I use myself as an example of someone committed to the ongoing, limitless process of conscious change. My intention is not to use myself as an example of someone who knows what’s “right” or “good.” It’s not even to try to espouse some particular way of being or thinking, though I certainly believe in the things I’m trying to do and write about. I use myself because this ongoing process of learning is what I value most. I want to write about why this is, and the process by which I am always trying to live this value in the most meaningful ways I can (whether the results are successful or not).

I write about myself because at this point it is the way I know to make myself most accountable. If I talk about how I am trying to change, it is the easiest way to make sure that I am taking responsibility for change needing to occur. It also feels like a safe way to speak strongly without being threatening or overbearing or preachy or judgmental.

Thing is, I’m not the only person that needs to commit to an ongoing process of conscious change. We all do. We all have the capacity to change and make the world better, and the need to do so is urgent. It feels safer to demand accountability only from myself, but it doesn’t work. If I’m going to be most true to myself I have to be fearless enough to say out loud that I am not the only one that needs to change.

The reality is that every human needs to change in order to save life on the planet and the planet itself. Every Northern person needs to change in order to end injustice in the global South. Every white person needs to change in order to end racism. Every wealthy person needs to change in order to end poverty. Every man needs to change in order to end sexism and violence against women. I say these things because I believe that our capacity to evolve is what can make the world a better place.

I’m struggling with how to balance being strong, vocal and principled with remaining open to learning and criticism. One of the things I got called on this week was a quote I posted that I feel captures some of the qualities I most value and respect in the men in my life. I didn’t write the quote (Starhawk did), so I can’t speak for the author’s intentions, though she was talking about working with men in the context of a feminist movement. My intentions in posting it weren’t well thought through (a man who I respect and trust and appreciate introduced me to it and it simply spoke to me), but they certainly weren’t to judge men or demand conformity to a rigid ideal or anything like that.

The charge against me for the post and for my response to the criticism was that I was, among other things, close-minded. A great way to really shut someone down is to dismiss their response to criticism (e.g., I know you think you’re open minded, but you’re wrong!) So I was very effectively shut down. Fine. The blog’s been open for comments, so I left myself open to that.

It made me think about the nature of being close-minded, that’s for sure. Sure, I do self-identify as open-minded (I wonder how many people out there actually identify as close-minded). But when I think about it, it’s true that trying to be a principled person requires closing my mind to all kinds of things. I rigorously practice, for example, closing my mind off to the following ideas: that race is an indicator of value or rights or intelligence, that homosexuality is wrong, that rape is acceptable, that I have the right to consume beyond the means of the Earth, etc. Similarly, I close myself off to people all the time, and open myself to the ones I trust and that nurture goodness and learning and respect in my life.

My critic this week is not the first person to ever call me close-minded. In the past, my fear of being closed has caused me to respond to such charges by trying to remain open at all costs – even to things I had no business being open to. When I’ve done this against my intuition and better judgment, the result is only ever catastrophe. So, while I hope I have the courage in my life to open my mind to the ideas and people and criticisms that will make me learn the most, I will also consciously choose to trust myself to close myself to the things I need to, and to give myself permission to be more open to certain people (and qualities) than to others.

If you’ve made it this far, here’s the gist of the thing: I’m learning, and though it never feels easy and is often not pretty, I’m happy for it. And since some interesting stuff is coming up in the process, I think I’ll stick with it and continue to muddle my way through. But first I will take a breather, and rest up for the next round. Thanks for reading.

xo n

Tonight I went to hear the mythical David Suzuki speak at the University of Regina. It was the best live talk I’ve ever been too. Hands down. That man has so much cred that he maintains absolute legitimacy even while hollering into the microphone like a raving lunatic. It was seriously excellent. For some reason I thought powerful oration was a lost art, but clearly I was wrong.

He’s heading west and has a number of stops left to go, so if he hasn’t already passed through your town yet, please try to check him out. Find the sched here. ‘Cause we all need more heroes, right?

xo n

I can’t say that I enjoy criticism, but it does tend to nurture deeper reflection. So let’s see where it leads! What follows is my response to a comment on My Little House on the Prairie.

I fail to see how you fulfilling the liberal dream of property ownership makes the world a better place.

You’re right! You can’t see what’s not there. Owning property, in and of itself, certainly does not make the world a better place. What I am hoping is that my house will be part of a positive direction in my life that is equipping me to contribute more effectively to the world. It’s just a thing, so it won’t make me happy or wise or compassionate. But it is one component of a life I am trying to design to help support me in being the most effective human I can be.

I did say that happiness and peace might help me be more effective. I guess that came off as selfish. Maybe it is, I’m not sure. I tend to see happiness more as a means to an end than an end in itself. My goal in life is not to be happy. It’s to try to make the world a better place. But I recognize that I can’t do that effectively without taking care of myself. I’ve experienced being depressed and anxious and fearful, and I can say with certainty that those states make me pretty well totally ineffectual. Hence my interest in experimenting with happiness.

What exactly are you giving back to the world? By producing independent media? By reducing your ecological footprint?

Oh, they’re good questions. I want to make the world so much better than it is, and I wish I could tell you with total confidence that what I’m doing is contributing to that. The process of growing up and discovering that I might not actually be able to fix things has been hard for me to come to terms with. That said, I do believe in what I’m doing. Media plays a crucial role in shaping our culture, and culture plays a crucial role in shaping how we think and act. Media is a hugely powerful thing…and I take creating independent, critical, fearless media very seriously. I think it’s important work.

On the other hand, I’ve been doing the work I do for long enough to know what the consequences of it can be for myself. A while back I burnt out, and in that state I had nothing to contribute to anyone. At that time I mistook “making the world a better place” with driving myself into the ground, racking up unmanageable debt and being totally out of touch with what a sustainable, healthy, feasible life looks and feels like.

Since that happened I’ve worked very hard to change my life and take steps away from what it was like then. But it’s amazing what a number I did on myself—I haven’t regained all my energy and it’s quite possible I never will. I suppose that’s made me protective of myself, and maybe that means that I’m also selfish. If I want to keep doing the work I think is important, then I have to be able to survive it. I have to be able to take care of myself.

The reality of my life is that I choose to work hard for not a lot of money, and for that to be sustainable from financial and energetic perspectives, I have to manage the balance very carefully. Money is part of the world I function in and I have to be smart about it. I’ve been dumb about money before, and recovering from that has been hard. Going down that path again is not an option for me. One part of trying not to is investing in this city and in this house. Which brings me to:

You’ve just bought into the mainstream, you’ve just fulfilled what it is that banks are for, to give us money to buy things so that they can make more money…you’re still complicit in what it seems to me you are trying to challenge.

I vehemently disagree that I just bought into the mainstream! I have two university degrees, I work fulltime, I pay taxes, I own a computer and I indulge in heterosexual sex. I have student loans and lines of credit and the banks have been making good money off me for years. My goodness, I most certainly did not just buy into the mainstream. My whole culture has been edging me into complicity since birth!

I’m not trying to be a brat on purpose. I’m just of the opinion that most all of us in this culture are complicit in the mainstream, and that we’re farther ahead when we acknowledge it. I was complicit before buying my house and I will continue to be. I will always participate in the economy and in capitalism, and when those collapse I will inevitably participate in whatever human inventions replace them. I could choose to reject my complicity more radically, perhaps by renouncing all my possessions and becoming a monk, or by hiking into the arctic and sacrificing myself to underweight polar bears (is it odd that I’ve considered both?). But by choosing to remain in the world and do my work here, I believe it’s my responsibility to accept that I am complicit in what’s wrong in the world. Then it’s my responsibility to question my complicity. And then to rip it up. And then to talk about it. And then to get blasted for it over and over until hopefully, ultimately, I learn something from it that will make a difference.

I had a wonderful prof named Deborah Barndt who taught me to embrace contradictions – not by ignoring them or skimming over them, but by really engaging with them. So I’m reluctant to try to justify buying my house as the right thing to do. I might very well be a giant, useless, selfish hypocrite. But I made the decision based on a real, thoughtful, critical process, and now I get to live with it, for better or for worse.

So what will I do with this cursed blessing? Getting my ass kicked has definitely inspired me to get on with planning for it more actively than I had been. Mostly I’m just excited to join a community that I can become an active participant in. Here are some of the cool things I know about so far:

Core Community Association. Don’t worry, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities for me, ranging from working with kids to providing food to identifying unsafe living conditions.

Thomson Community School is right across the street from my house and, as an inner city school, services one of the most diverse student bodies in Regina.

– Chinastreet. I miss the proper Chinatowns of my former big city homes, but I’ll take what I can get, and there is a great Asian grocery just a few blocks from my house. And although the community is conspicuously lacking a big grocery store, there is also a great health food store and a wicked South Asian/Central American grocery within walking distance. There is also a good Korean restaurant and an excellent Ethiopian restaurant, so food will not be a problem. This particular part of Regina is about as multicultural as this small city gets.

So there it is. More than enough reflection for one night. Thanks Kelvin, for making me think hard.

xo n

to never watch TV again. The wondrous alternatives are endless, and I love the way this dude captures them. Actually, I think his whole ebook, Live Simple, is pretty cool.

Ok, so I fell off the map for the last while, but I return with some major news: I made a very large and very old purchase. As of yesterday I am the proud (and terrified) owner of a 1944 bungalow in “Canada’s worst neighbourhood.” I’m not fazed by the bad neighbourhood part (I’ve lived in some most excellent bad neighourhoods in my day, and I actually think I prefer them…call it the Romantic Starving Artist archetype within). What scares me is the responsibility, commitment, and probable substantial cost of the endeavour.

There seem to be two schools of thought on home-owning in this day and age. There’s the standard one, which goes along the lines of, “Why pay rent every month to someone else when you could be paying it into your own investment?” Though I sometimes wonder if that that line of thinking might be nothing more than big bank propaganda, it’s ultimately the one I decided to go with, mostly because Regina has such an affordable and growing real estate market. In that way, I’ve made a very calculated investment (a.k.a. risk). I fully intend to make money from this and put it towards something else (of even greater value, whether financial or spiritual). Of course, in the meantime it’s also going to be my home, which is one of the most important parts of my life.

But there’s a critical argument against investing in real estate too, and that’s the one that is scary. It goes something like, “Maybe, just maybe, buying something huge that requires constant upkeep and maintenance isn’t actually the best way to move towards sustainability (financial independence, smaller ecological footprint, simpler life, etc.). Why would I want to live in (and pay to maintain) a comparatively huge property and structure, when I could certainly spend less money by not owning my own house? A couple of my more righteously hardcore friends have also reminded me gently that a whole house is more space than most of the world’s population has, and that it’s my responsibility as a privileged Northerner to decrease the amount of global space and energy I take up.

Yes, yes, yes and yes. I know these things and am in full agreement. And even though I’m scared and have lots of questions and fears about the whole thing, I still wanted to buy a whole house. Why? What am I hoping to achieve through this purchase that I think might actually serve the common good?

1. Financial Independence. So how exactly does my financial independence serve the common good? A fine question. Please refer to Your Money or Your Life for the best answer, but in the meantime here’s my version: by becoming less dependent on the mainstream socioeconomic structure, my work is freed up to happen on my own terms, without being as compromised to cultural expectations. In other words, I can focus on the work that is most important (and most fulfills my purpose/potential) without having to worry as much about how I will survive.

2. Greater freedom over the choices I make and my lifestyle. For example, I can (hopefully) use my property to grow food, which increases my self-reliance, decreases my reliance on Big Food, and localizes/simplifies/improves my food consumption. I can also choose to make energy efficient choices/upgrades in my home, and design my space based on what I legitimately need and think is of value rather than simply filling it up with a million things. (For the record, I also plan to share the space, so if any of y’all know of any potential roomies who might be keen to share the practice of Subverting Overconsumption, let me know!)

3. Greater sense of home, community, connectedness, happiness. Ok, one cute little house won’t necessarily give me all (or any) of these. But I’m working towards these states in my life, and while a happier, more connected me may not sound like a giant service to humankind, I actually think it is. The more successfully I can resolve the doubts I have about my role in the world, the more successfully I can focus on the business of fulfilling my potential. Though my purpose sometimes feels like it is eluding me, whether it’s ultimately to publish independent media or write or simply be a good and compassionate friend and neighbour, the happier and more at peace I am, the better. Hopefully building a healthy, functional home that reflects my values will support that.

So there you have it. I have high hopes for my little house on the prairie. I don’t expect its red trim and hardwood floors to provide a map to world peace or a solution to climate change, but I do hope that it will be the beginnings of a home base that will help to manifest my vision. With regards to this project, I think it will be a wicked fun challenge to see what I can do with it from here on in.

See you at the housewarming,

xo n

Flickr Photos