Tuesday, September 28, 2010

the creatives

There's nothing like spending what (unfortunately) probably amounts to more than an hour a day looking for places to live on craigslist to make you question your identity. My room hunting angst is only compounded by the fact that my job (which I'd like to be close to) happens to be in Williamsburg, the epicenter of the hipster world. Post after post of available rooms includes some sort of preference for "young creatives". A couple of times I have ventured a response to such post based on other merits of the living arrangement.

No response.

I work 9-5. According to craigslist, this officially makes me a "young professional", and unofficially makes me boring. And un-creative.

There is not much space (literally -- you should see how small the kitchens are!) in NYC for the domestic or living arts. The place I'm living now didn't even have a can opener or a cutting board when I got here. Yet I persist in my artistic attempts. This is a sweet potato apple lentil stew. Tonight's answer to all those "young creatives" on craigslist.
Dish features sweet potatoes and celery from DoReMi farm at the New Amsterdam Market, apples from the Union Square Greenmarket, Tropical Heat curry powder and chai masala (ginger, cardamom, cinnamon), along with butter, onion, garlic, lentils, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste from Walmart and the local grocery store.

Monday, September 27, 2010


There are a lot of things about New York City that are overwhelming. The movement, the activity, the noise...and the sheer number of people. And it's not just the number of people, there's a certain quality to them too, a tendency towards extremes. My theory is that the city is so big and there are so many things that you could be into, that many people choose to differentiate themselves by being really, really into whatever their thing happens to be.

But even with all diversity of hair styles, body art, accents, clothing, personal hygiene etc., I can feel myself starting to get a bit numb, developing an immunity to individuals and stories in the face of sheer volume.

This Jane Kenyon poem was a reminder:
Man Sleeping

Large flakes of snow fall slowly, far
apart, like whales who cannot find mates
in the vast blue latitudes.

Why do I think of the man asleep
on the grassy bank outside the Sackler
Museum in Washington?
It was a chill
afternoon. He lay, no doubt, on everything
he owned, belly-down, his head twisted
awkwardly to the right, mouth open
in abandon.
He looked
like a child who has fallen asleep
still dressed on top of the covers,
or like Abel, broken, at his brother's feet.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Getting off the subway a block or two from Ground Zero this morning, I kept thinking of these words from this Wendell Berry essay:
...we have not learned to think of peace apart from war. We have received many teachings about peace and peaceability in biblical and other religious traditions, but we have marginalized these teachings, have made them abnormal, in deference to the great norm of violence and conflict. We wait, still, until we face terrifying dangers and the necessity to choose among bad alternatives, and then we think again of peace, and again we fight a war to secure it.

Monday, September 6, 2010


As I've moved closer to the people and processes involved in making the most basic material goods (food, clothing) in the past two years, the physical world has taken on a new weight. Driving past malls and outlet stores, the sheer volume of the stuff inside is overwhelming. I've had a little glimpse into the lives of those sewing and picking, so that in my more lucid moments I can't grab an appliance off a shelf without wondering how many hands were involved in making it, or pull a shirt off the rack without a peek at the tag to see where it came from.

Being a bit more aware sets me up for an exhausting series of mental gymnastics any time I make a purchase.

Today, for example, I found myself grocery shopping in Walmart. Already I’d had to do some justifying. Walmart is the Big Bad Wolf, up there with other dastardly corporations like Monsanto. They underpay their workers both here and overseas and force local operations out of business everywhere they go.

But…I needed a plastic storage bin. Target would have been my first choice, but it was out of the way and I have a sneaky suspicion my aversion to Walmart is partly a class thing (Target is, after all, where upper middle class folks by their Made in China).

On my list after the storage bin were a number of grocery items (since, as of Wednesday, whatever I eat will have to be transported home without the help of a car). I’d planned on patronizing a local grocery store, but did the impact of the extra gas from the trip outweigh the karmic good of supporting a local family?

So…I found myself grocery shopping in Walmart. Already feeling guilty, my calculating had just begun. How much more was I willing to pay per can of organic beans (and could I even justify beans in a can when the dried varieties were available)? Coffee: fair trade, organic, Rainforest Alliance…could I find all three? If I could buy non-organic brown rice in a bigger bag, did the plastic pollution I saved in any way cancel out the pesticides used in growing? How about salt – would going for the Morton’s be a capitulation to advertising or would choosing the cheaper Walmart brand create downward pressure on prices that often has consequences for workers and the environment? What size cans of crushed tomatoes should I buy – the smaller size (and waste packaging materials) or the larger size (and likely waste food, since I’ll be cooking for one)?

All this, and I get to the check-out aisle and realize I’d forgotten to bring re-useable bags.

At the end of that trip, at the end of a couple weeks of shopping to get ready for life and work in NYC, after so many tiny (and at the same time overwhelmingly significant) decisions, there is this:

A Short Testament
by Anne Porter

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I've destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death's bare branches.