I was talking to my kids this morning about the fact that we don’t know what the world they’ll grow up to will look like, but we know it won’t look like ours.
I grew up with weekly trips to the big branch library and using card catalogs to do research; library funding has been slashed all over, hours reduced, fewer books. The internet has somewhat replaced that, except for the freely circulating books. Project Gutenberg is a great resource, but not the same as a large well-stocked library. I don’t know what the library equivalent of the future will be, but I don’t see a return to the past coming.
I grew up with constant news of recessions and budget cuts, but there was never any question that schools could afford to operate buses. Now distract after distract is doing away with student transportation; they can’t afford it. And that’s on top of other drastic cuts. What will the future of school look like? I think adding more virtual public schools is the obvious answer; no need for transportation, fewer teachers, janitors administrators required, fewer buildings to maintain. In the meantime, I predict a huge upsurge in home schooling and private distance learning.
Will more people telecommute? Oddly, telecommuting seems to be losing favor right when it makes more economic sense than ever. But it offers the same savings to businesses that virtual schooling offers school districts.
Basically I see a shift to local and individual efforts. More individual accountability, more local involvement. The job force is already following the trend back to small businesses, self-employment, contract workers instead of employees.
None of this is bad, necessarily, just different. If we have to be more conservative in our habits, if we have to do more ourselves, we become more capable. Capability builds confidence. I think the world of tomorrow may be a very interesting, vital, connected and inventive place as individuals find ways to replace systems that have become unsustainable with new solutions.
What will the future look like? Imagine. And then start building it.
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My garden. It is a little, well, wild. There’s crabgrass between the rows, which I am slowly but surely rooting out. This makes it resemble a teenage boy in need of a haircut putting up a determined fight at the suggestion that a trim might be needed. My garden does not look like those pristine pictures you see in garden magazine layouts.
But I love it. And despite the crabgrass and the marauding deer, it’s producing tasty greens and radishes and strawberries, and the flowers say that soon we’ll have squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, corn, eggplant. The sunflowers might recover from being eaten by hooved hoodlums, too.
I love it despite the imperfections because it has reminded me of something important; that a garden doesn’t have to look like something out of a magazine to be effective.
For the first time since I took up the habit at age 12, I’m not writing daily. I’ve been doing this for two reasons. One, I want to communicate and if I don’t have anything worth saying, I don’t want to spew words just to make noise. And two, I have promised myself I will never force myself to write again.
So now I have to strike a balance between writing at the expense at the rest of my life and my creativity, and getting into a habit of not writing. I need to practice the discipline without using it as a stick to beat myself with.
I think a gentle way to do this is to make sure that at some point each day, I take uninterrupted time to sit down and write. No quotas. No “this many words” or “for this length of time”. No “no matter what else is happening”. The discipline is for my creative benefit, not my detriment.
Maybe some days I will find I have nothing to say. That’s okay. Maybe some days I will find that instead of spewing words, words, words, I need to listen to what the story is trying to be or to mean. Writing may need to take the form of being quiet sometimes. Maybe instead of writing a scene, I will close my eyes and imagine the scene, with all my senses.
I don’t think it matters, as long as I check in with the writing daily and do my best to participate in the process.
Yesterday we visited a local farmer’s market (yes, we’re lucky enough to have more than one nearby) and found new potatoes, peas, onions, apples, cucumbers. Our garden is beginning to produce but while we wait for things to ripen, it’s wonderful to benefit from gardens that started earlier with a greenhouse, cold frame or grow tunnel.
Visiting farmer’s markets is one of the best parts of summer. So much more fun than going to a store, and so many offerings; we buy handmade natural soap from one stall and Amish baked goods from another. (I don’t bake much in the summer; I try to keep the oven off.)
Then we came home and I sat in the gazebo with the kids and taught them to shell peas. They were enthralled, and even the cat came to watch and chase the occasional runaway pea. Shelling peas and snapping beans are great excuses to sit and watch the sights of summer, a chance to relax in between bouts of weeding and picking in the garden.
It’s fun to watch the garden to grow, to see what other gardens are producing, to have fresh flowers in the house as various things come into bloom and stalk the nearby woods for ripe blackberries. Summer is full of timeless pursuits that carry over from generation to generation.
Croquet on the lawn, backyard badminton, stealing a juicy strawberry from the garden, shelling peas to have for dinner with onions and new potatoes roasted on the outdoor grill. Campfires and cookouts. The sound of lawnmowers and the smell of freshly cut grass. Summer is a feast for the senses and many summer pastimes are free or very inexpensive. And watching your kids shell peas for you? Priceless.
I harvested the first salad from the garden this morning; spinach, mesclun mix and radishes. The greens are washed and draining, the radishes scrubbed and trimmed, ready to slice and toss. The sight and texture and taste of real food, there is nothing like it.
The garden is a shaken fist of rebellion against supermarkets full of fake food. Mushy fruits, tasteless vegetables, rows of cereal boxes that don’t contain any whole grains but have plenty of high fructose corn syrup. If you wonder why America is out of shape, all you have to do is enter a grocery store and try to find real food. You have to go out of your way to shop farmer’s markets, buy direct from local farmers and ranchers, buy organic. The quarter beef we bought from a local rancher has hamburger so lean it doesn’t need draining. You can’t buy that in a store.
In our hunger for real food, we find only cheap substitutes that don’t satisfy. And it spreads from there. Houses built with shoddy construction techniques that look sad after five years, when a well-built home from fifty years ago looks sturdy even under peeling paint. Cheap, badly made furniture that breaks after a couple of years of use. Disposable everything, from cars to pens. It’s all engineered to break so we’ll have to replace it and keep buying more of the same empty consumerism.
How do you get the real thing? You plant a garden. You find local farmers and buy from them. You make and build your own. You find quality manufacturing where you can, and you repair and maintain it. And you turn your back on entertainment that’s the equivalent of high fructose corn syrup with all the same ingredients as every other item next to it on the shelf and seek something you can sink the teeth of your imagination into. Maybe you write it yourself.
I think the worst thing we’ve been sold by the marketers of the world is the idea that we can’t do it ourselves, that we don’t have the time, the tools, or the expertise. But really, it doesn’t take that much time to tend a garden, saw wood and screw wood to build your own bookcase, write a few pages of a novel. All it takes is turning off the TV that’s broadcasting advertising telling us we can’t, and investing those hours in producing and experiencing something real instead.