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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

I’ve been putting off this confession for over a week: I had a momentary (and very lame) lapse in consumer judgment, and participated in buying something totally off limits to Subverting Overconsumption. It may have been the least romantic and most incomprehensible way to fall off the wagon, so I feel a like a bit of a jackass. But it’s a good reminder about how easy it is to get careless, so here goes:

It was my Grandma’s birthday 83rd birthday last week, and my uncle and I drove out of town to visit her for the day. I procrastinated dealing with her birthday all week, stayed out too late on Friday night, woke up the next morning and found myself in Safeway with my uncle sharing the cost of a potted flowering plant and a shiny Happy Birthday helium balloon.

Now, the flowers I managed to justify to myself (if only because they don’t fall under any clear guideline for Subverting Overconsumption). But a festively garish themed helium balloon? It’s never even crossed my mind to buy such a thing for anyone ever in my entire life! Why now? For what purpose? Did I lose all reason and consciousness and sense of self to boot?

I have no explanation. It’s completely incomprehensible to me. I just feel confused and dumb. Not like it’s the end of the world or the project or anything…just like it was really weird.

I’ve thought about it some, and there seems to be something about giving gifts in the context of this project that makes me profoundly uncomfortable. At Christmas I struggled with a similar anxiety around how to express my love/appreciation/affection to people through giving them shit. I felt insecure that if I didn’t buy stuff for people they wouldn’t think I was giving enough, or I felt reluctant to put a ton of time into homemade effort for people that might just not appreciate it. I felt like it would have been safer and easier to drop money on something material and meaningless than to pour blood, sweat and tears into something meaningful only to risk having it fall flat. In this case, it was much easier to lull myself into going along with buying my grandmother some impersonal crappy object that it was to admit that I don’t know her well enough to trust myself to do something for her that she would really value.

It’s disappointing, but all there is to do is get up, dust myself off, flag “gifts” as something now officially needing extra attention as part of Subverting Overconsumption, and move forward.

xo n

Ok, maybe it’s because it’s been a really, really long couple of weeks, but I’m having trouble suppressing my irritation. So here we go:

Yesterday I carelessly posted a call to “action” involving a coordinated turning off of lights and electrical appliances around the world to make a statement about climate change. (Apparently there were also some accuracy issues.)

Today I got another “activist” email forwarded to me proposing a coordinated deflation of SUV tires (see the bottom of this post if you want to read it). It also dissed the electrical power down “action,” proclaiming that the SUV action “can have real media and political weight.”

Maybe. Letting air out of SUV tires might be much more effective, radical, revolutionary. Or not. I feel pretty sure that if I was an SUV driver and I got back to my car to find that someone had deflated my tires, I wouldn’t feel that open to hearing about the important message they were trying to draw attention to. I would probably just be really angry and hold a big fat grudge on all those goddam hippie anarchists, and close my mind forever to the possibility that they might have had something intelligent and important to say.

In any event, I’m likely not going to join the masses to fight climate change by deflating SUV tires. I didn’t turn off my lights or my computer this afternoon either. I didn’t even bother having an orgasm on global orgasm for peace day!

Though I’m a big sucker for the idea that mass action can move mountains, I don’t think this particular form of internet “activism” is the way to go. Actually, I’m pretty sure these mass forwards are no more effective than those bullshit forwarded petitions that were all the rage a few years back. I don’t even think they’re that much better than the tacky chain emails that demand you forward them to at least five people for good luck. They prey on similar things, inspiring the niggling guilt that I should forward it to my entire address book to avoid letting myself or my friend, or (heaven forbid) the planet down!

I’m irritated at myself for succumbing to the pressure. I’m irritated at the people who forward me the crap. And I’m irritated by the people who come up with the hoo hah in the first place. I’m gloriously, irrationally irritated, and being irritated is the most irritating thing!

So to cleanse myself of the bullshit I thought I’d make a list of some actions that I actually think are useful. Turns out I’m not even doing most of them. Damn! So if you’re not either, then maybe we can do them together:

  • Put a plastic jug in the tank of your toilet to save water
  • Write a letter to the editor
  • Walk to work
  • Run for city council
  • Grow a garden
  • Use vinegar in water to wash your mirrors and windows
  • Meditate

Please circulate this call to your utmost ability to your network.

xo n

P.S. Here’s the SUV thing…decide for yourselves how much merit the idea has:

Did you get that message forwarded to you that asked everyone in the world to simultaneously turn off the lights for five minutes — in the middle of the day — to “take action” and “send a message” about global warming? Did you roll your eyes? Then here’s the action for you…

Participate in the biggest direct action mobilization of the Air Liberation Front!

The Air Liberation Front (a clandestine network dedicated to the liberation of air from the tires of unneccesarily-oversized vehicles) is calling on all citizens to create a few hours of gas-guzzling rest for the planet.

People all over the world can go to their nearest parking lot on the sixth of February 2007, between 2 and 4, and let the air out of an SUV’s tires (preferably a Hummer). (Hint: if you place a very small pebble in the cap and screw it partially on, the pebble will push in the valve and the air will deflate slowly without you having to remain crouched beside the offending vehicle.)

A few hours of gas-guzzling downtime for the planet: this does not take long, and costs nothing, and will show all political leaders that global warming is an issue that needs to come first and foremost in political debate.

This event affects us all, involves us all, and provides an occasion to show how important an issue global warming is to us. If we all participate, this action can have real media and political weight.

Please circulate this call to your utmost ability to your network.

Addendum (2/2/07): Upon reflection this started to bug me. Check out my next posting for some elaboration. xo n.

The 1st of February 2007:

Participate in the biggest mobilization of Citizens Against Global Warming!

The Alliance for the Planet [a group of environmental associations] is calling on all citizens to create 5 minutes of electrical rest for the planet. http://www.lalliance.fr

People all over the world should turn off their lights and electrical appliances on the first of February 2007, between 1.55 pm and 2.00 pm in New York, 18.55 for London, and 19.55 for Paris, Bruxelles, and Italy. 1.55pm in Ottawa, 10.55am on the Pacific Coast of North America.

This is not just about saving 5 minutes worth of electricity; this is about getting the attention of the media, politicians, and ourselves.

Five minutes of electrical down time for the planet: this does not take long, and costs nothing, and will show all political leaders that global warming is an issue that needs to come first and foremost in political debate.

Why February 1? This is the day when the new UN report on global climate change will come out in Paris.

This event affects us all, involves us all, and provides an occasion to show how important an issue global warming is to us. If we all participate, this action can have real media and political weight.

Flickr Photos

Dollhouse close up

Kitchen close up

Dollhouse rooms

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