being green


The internet is a funny thing. It makes that of our imaginations real; it shrinks distances to the length of a fingertip. It makes contact wildly easy, and true intimacy easy to forget. It makes careers and whole industries, and occasionally it destroys them. It breeds a kind of pseudo-anonymity that makes it easy to forget that the whole world is watching and that that world is composed of real people with real feelings and real faces. Years ago, chat rooms and email lists pioneered new language to describe the unbearably cruel barbs that became surprisingly common: flames, flame wars, flaming. And then the beginnings of a cure: emoticons (sideways smilies made with punctuation marks), which give us a shadow of facial cues to go with our language. We can smile, wink, laugh, stick out our tongues, even put on sunglasses for a cool look. They help. We also learned, in the early days of email, to keep the emotional conversations off the computer as much as possible. When things get tough the best course is to get together as soon as you can.

For a geographically dispersed congregation like ours, scattered across at least five different regions and many more communities, technology can be an incredible grace. We can email, social-network, even video chat our way into a kind of daily intimacy formerly only available to next-door neighbors. We are working on developing our online presence: website, Facebook page, sermon podcasts, and more. If we use these tools wisely, they can build exactly the kind of strength we need in our community; if we forget that we are people talking to people, if we forget appropriate boundaries, if we use them for hard conversations instead of for scheduling the hard conversations, if we let them depersonalize us, then we are in trouble.

But we can’t let fear of a conflict keep us from connection. These tools could have been custom-made for us. The technology has matured at last, and we are in exactly the right place to reap the benefits: very much wanting to know each other better, and too busy and dispersed to get together twice a week for coffee. We literally have the technology. Let’s use it.

I grew up in the suburbs of New York. Graffiti was a way of life and an art form. Sure, it was illegal, but if it was beautiful enough it could win you over, and often did.

CNET has a photo gallery of “green” graffiti now–no spray cans, just creativity. Some of it is digital, but some is not.

What can we transform?

So print publishers are struggling, newspapers are going out of business, independent presses and novelists are having a heck of a time. Whether or not computers and Kindles are sounding the death knell for books as we know them, they are becoming a part of the publishing landscape. In a time when major booksellers control most of what gets printed and therefore most of what is available, period, the web and electronics are pushing back. Novelists and creatives of every stripe are working with forward-thinking geeks to work with the technology and open up the possibilities.

Nicola Griffith, author of a number of exquisitely crafted, every-word-chosen-for-a-reason print novels, is working with her fans to develop a new cooperative publishing model. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s grassroots, and she’s got a lot of people on board. Read about it here: Ask Nicola.

Publishing doesn’t get much more democratic. The best writers will write, the best artists will illustrate, but everyone can do something to make this project go. Check it out!

Our house was built by an interesting and innovative gentleman who is now building his family another house in the next town over. Part of his research has been into energy efficiency. All fuels have problems of storage, of transportation, of pollution–some more than others. But this new trend in Germany looks at the problem of heating from the other direction: reducing fuel demand to zero while staying comfortable. The NYT writes about it here. Fabulous.

Alison Bechdel (cartoonist of long-running Dykes to Watch Out For) has a partner whose passion is composting. Here, Holly spends a few hours of her vacation overhauling the compost pile for the UU meetinghouse in Provincetown, MA.

I’ve posted several times about furoshikis, the Japanese squares of fabric that can be transformed into carrying bags and wraps of all kinds. A little while back I noted that there was a book, and promised a follow-up if I could get my hands on it.

I found it. Gift Wrapping With Textiles by Chizuko Morita was, unbelievably, in the Bangor Borders. Now that I’ve had it for a few months, I feel qualified to comment.

The truth is, almost all the really useful wraps are demo’ed on YouTube or diagrammed on the Japanese Ministry of the Environment furoshiki. There are a few good additions in this book, notably a large folio carry (think framed art), the long tube wrap (think rolled posters), the kimono wine wrap (not as useful as the ordinary bottle wrap, but prettier), and the backpack (uses two furoshikis, and really only good in a pinch). Everything else is either a reapplication of a basic concept or cute/pretty but not useful as such (and here my New England pragmatism peeks through). The instructions are generally good, especially the section in the beginning about the different sorts of knots and how to tie them. there are a few places where the wording is a little tricky, but nothing insurmountable.

If you’re planning to convert your life to a furoshiki-only existence, get this book. If you want a lot of instructions about decorative wraps (the title is, after all, about gift wrapping) with flowers or rabbits or kittens worked into the tying, get this book. Otherwise, see if you can get it at the library.

There’s a lot that goes into sustainability, one of which is actual footprint–size of house, for example. Our house is 1080 square feet on three floors. It’s just about big enough for all the stuff we have, mostly. With a little weeding our stuff would fit. However, the common space is a little tight for anything resembling a crowd. The presence of summer guests has made that clearer.

So someday we could expand the house about 8 feet, which is a lot for a 20×22 footprint.

But my father and his three siblings grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Mumbai. Half the family slept in the living room. Do two adults and three pets need more space?

I don’t know.

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