Reclaim Your Surroundings

T his fantabulous blog about The Invisibles just completely reminded me of something I’ve been wanting to post about for weeks now.

One of Agent Causation’s last paragraphs reads: “Make your town seem strange again. Rename the streets and buildings. Reclaim your world and your reality.”

This is precisely what John Stilgoe writes about in Outside Lies Magic. I’m going to come clean right now and say that I own this book and haven’t read it all. But the first chapter changed my life.  He writes about looking at your world as if you hadn’t seen it before–as if you’re a tourist from another planet. Wonder at the infrastructure–the power lines, the water towers, the electrical boxes. A powerful force called electricity comes into your house from outside, from miles and miles of cords. It’s crazy once you think about it for the first time again.

Once I started taking fascination in the world around me, I couldn’t believe how intricate the railroad crossing sign and bell outside my apartment was. I followed power lines with my eyes for blocks. I knocked on the door of a generator box at a park. And I realized that industrial landscapes are some of the most beautiful places in the world.

You think I’m crazy, right?  These filthy places? No one wants to live by this. I’m not saying live in this landscape. I’m saying pay attention to it. This is not about property values.  It’s about imagination. Nothing gives imagination more fodder than the places around us.

I write a lot about how places effect our minds and emotions. The shape of a place will determine your lifestyle. But you have just as much affect on what you see and hear outside your house. The mind is a powerful thing!

I recommend Outside Lies Magic and I recommend walking, biking, or driving down a street in your city that you’ve never seen before.

Blog Action Day: Climate Change

I can’t think of a more relevant topic than Climate Change for Blog Action Day 2009. Last year, it was poverty. I think my post on that is still on here somewhere. If you search for October 15, 2008, maybe?

Many people have asked me if I think global warming is real. The question exhausts me. I have no idea if it’s real. I haven’t done the research, really, and there’s so much propaganda on both sides. BUT. It’s a genius strategy for getting people to comply with environmental regulations and lifestyle changes–not even the scare tactics but the tax incentives and green jobs. It’s a huge impetus for many changes, touching every industry in America. How do we drive less? How do we waste less? How do we be more sustainable? How do we do all this while still invigorating our economy?

The idea of Climate Change, as I said, is a genius way to get America back on its feet. After the Great Depression, we had WWII and also the mass production of the automobile and the idea of the nuclear family and private property to recharge the economy. Were those ideas false? Maybe. Does it matter? It can’t matter.

I have a feeling we are in some environmental danger, and action needs to be taken. But climate change is not the only motivation for these changes. I see it more as an excuse. For example, in the planning world, people are saying that better planned communities will allow people to walk and bike and use public transit more, which would reduce their carbon footprint. But there are so many other benefits to this lifestyle – health benefits, social benefits, economic benefits – and I don’t see why these are ignored. For the aging generation of legislators and county officials who believe in climate change like they believe in Santa Claus, what is the climate change incentive going to do for them?

Don’t play the silly game of political debate. What I mean is that it really doesn’t matter if it’s scientifically real, because the idea has become so big that it is real, and it’s affecting everything already. I just want everyone to look beyond the politics of climate change and see if the solutions have other benefits. If they do, why not support them? This nation is far too polarized and it’s really too bad, because a lot of exciting things are going on.

Critical Hindsight

The blog world is strange. I feel I have to dig up interesting stuff and try to sell stuff and I feel I’m blogworshipping some Google God, trying to get as many hits as possible. Boo on me. It’s an exhausting endeavor. I used to just write what I wanted to write, when I was a teenager, and it came out all moody and indie and I tried to reference David Bowie in every paragraph, trying to prove to my peers that I am actually cool on the inside. But I look back on that old me and find her cute, just like the Bush supporters were cute, just as the highway and parking lot builders were so cute, thinking cars were our futures. Cute. None of these people could help it, including me.

Alexis Bledel’s going to be in a movie (probably cliche, probably a flop, but she’s SO CUTE!) about being a graduate and moving back home and not finding a job. WOW. That sounds familiar! It is incredibly difficult to stay motivated and to keep growing up when I live in the house I was born in. And I’m the youngest. Let me spill about my novel, too. I look back on what I’ve written and cringe at my dialogue. Oooo it’s bad. It sounds so natural in my head but on paper it’s like a Star Wars movie. Or Gran Torino. Anyone else notice how rotten the dialogue in that movie is? And the blatant Christ figure scene??? SO blatant, Clint. Clint have mercy. Anyway, I hope my mind can pull this novel through about 200 pages. I really hope it turns out good. And I hope it’s not the only one I’ll ever write.

Do you think good and evil actually exist? Actions that seem good at the time end up doing harm usually. But there has to be some sort of good. Art must be good. Sure, novels have come out and sparked entire movements of thought, but I can’t label any of those movements good or bad. The Modernist movement made some ugly buildings but it also produced some sweet design and it was direly needed after that opulent era. We will always look back at our personal past and criticize. We will always look back at our nation’s history and criticize. But who could have helped it? No one could have stopped the Industrial revolution from polluting our cities, even if we had known.No one could have stopped me from hating the world in high school. (That’s what breaks my heart about unhappy teens. They’re forced to be miserable by a bad upbringing until they can learn to be happy on their own. That needed self-awareness doesn’t kick in quickly enough.) There is only this moment; we can only do what we can.

I do know pain and joy exist. The latter is hard to recognize. I’m trying to connect with it more.