Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stuff — Steve Chiasson

“The more stuff you own, the more stuff owns you.”

This morning as I was carrying my breakfast dishes to the kitchen, I noticed a certain slant of light coming through the windows of my sunroom and found myself veering from the “things-I-need-to-do” path I’d set for myself the evening before. Conditions were perfect for taking photos of the interior spaces in our house (something I’ve been wanting to do in preparation for putting it on the market), so I decided to seize the moment and follow that path instead.

I attached the camera to my tripod and set up for the first shot — looking back towards the entryway from the sunroom — and noticed that the long counter on that wall was covered with stuff. Books, papers, office supplies, bric-a-brac. I moved all the clutter to the dining table, strategically placed a couple of African violets on the counter to give the space a little color, then snapped the picture.

Turning 180˚ to take in the rest of the sunroom, it was immediately clear I needed to move the vacuum cleaner from the middle of the room, the pieces of sheepskin (cut from an old waterbed pad) that Barbara was crafting into something else, the deflated green-and-white fuzzy Celtics beach ball that came from God-knows-where and somehow found a place in our lives, and a few other sundry pieces of flotsam and jetsam.

Next up was the corner where the dining table sits, now covered, of course, with all the stuff I’d moved from the long counter. Thinking ahead (aha!), I decided to postpone that shot, knowing I’d need to move even more stuff onto the table when I photographed the kitchen, as the counters there were dutifully obeying the “Flat Surface Law” which states (contrary to what some physicists will tell you): “Every available flat surface in any human habitation must be covered with stuff.”

I was getting the hang of it now, though. Sometimes it wasn’t necessary to actually move things from one place to another. I could just push it all into a corner and frame the shot to avoid that, or cover it up with something more visually appealing. Some things that were hugely cluttered — the corkboard next to my phone, for instance — turned out to be OK as they were, giving the place a “lived-in” kind of feel. Nothing Better Homes & Gardens would go for, mind you, but it worked for me.

In the process of going from room to room, rearranging all manner of stuff along the way, I lay my hands on a dizzying array of clothing, furniture, tableware, books, papers, pictures, laundry, exercise equipment, tools, personal care items, rotting produce, bottle caps, kids’ artwork, you-name-it. The funny thing is, it didn’t look all that bad to me when I started. It still doesn’t, really.

We’re not slovenly, by any means. We’re just busy people who have, for many years, bought into the Great American Misconception that “stuff” somehow makes your life better. Hey, sometimes it does. But more often than not, it just sort of attaches itself to you in very insidious ways and finds a place to live under your roof (or in your garage, or your barn). I have a feeling that if most of us could see all of our worldly possessions in a pile in our front yards, we’d be horrified.

On occasion the thought crosses my mind that maybe a saffron robe and a rice bowl ain’t so bad. But with cohousing in my future, I get to walk a middle path. The downsized house that Barbara and I will be moving into will force us to touch virtually every piece of stuff that has attached itself to us over the past thirty-plus years and decide what is really, truly essential. What is really, truly precious enough to be allowed to share our new living space. What we really need for ourselves, and what we can own in common with other members of the community.

It’s a new day, baby…

Here are some other interesting takes on "stuff."

George Carlin
Annie Leonard
Paul Graham

Oh, and here's a link to house photos, if you're interested…

Fear of Transformation — Danaan Parry

Excerpted from The Essene Book of Days

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I'm either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments it my life, I'm hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I'm in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while as I'm merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It's empty, and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness, coming to get me. In my heart-of-hearts I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip of this present, well-known bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won't have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place I know that l must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn't matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. Each time I am afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantee, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of "the past is gone, the future is not yet here". It’s called transition. I have come to believe that is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing,” a no-place between places. Sure, the old trapeze-bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that's real too. But the void in between? That's just a scary, confusing disorienting “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible. What a waste! I have the sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored — even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out-of-control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to "hang-out” in the transition between trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening, in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void we just may learn how to fly.

Click here for more on Danaan Parry, Earthstewards, and the Essene Book of Days.

Stepping Off The Cliff — Elizabeth Garber

The conversation I keep having goes something like this:
“I heard you’ve sold your home.”
“Yes, I’m moving to cohousing.”
“So, are the houses built?”
“Ah, no. They’ll start building first thing in the spring.”
“So how soon can you move in?”
“About two years from now.”
“So where are you going to live until then?”
“I’m figuring it out.”

My twenty year old daughter says, “Mom, this isn’t rational. Why are you leaving my beautiful house to live like some college student? Now I have no place to come home to! Where will I have Thanksgiving?”

I promise her, “Wherever I live, I’ll have a place for you.” She’s unconvinced.

Usually when people move, they are moving someplace — where they will move in, and set up home right away again. Or sometimes people my age, once their kids have left home, pack up and go off traveling or go to the Peace Corps. I’m downsizing and storing my belongings because of a vision a small group of us hold that we are creating a village where we’ll live together, have gardens, and so much more. It is this vision we’ve been developing for years that I now lean into as I sell my house and begin to pack.

At first, there is an exhilaration and excitement about the lightening up, sorting through of a lifetime of raising my two children. I finally cleaned out the medicine cabinet I’d meant to organize for years. I threw out old children’s cough medicine bottles, and organized all my herbs and homeopathic remedies in a plastic tub for taking with me. I descended through layers of history as I cleaned out the cubbies in the roll-top desk—finding, in the bottom of the drawers, my daughter’s five-year-old drawings of princesses, photos of my kids, love notes they left for me over the years. How much do I keep or toss? Someone is coming to buy the desk, the wood stove sold, my daughter’s high school desk sold. I listen to my gut. What do I keep, sell or give away? The peach couch is going to a single mom with a little girl so they can read books the way I did for years. The give-away party for my friends is in five days, the yard sale in six, the moving day in less than two weeks. I’m feeling weary and scared. I’m not exactly sure where I’ll be living this winter. I get emails and calls with generous offers of places to stay. My cohousing friend, Coleen, just put her house under contract. I’m not alone in this. We plan to be roommates, living somewhere for the next two years.

I’m dismantling the life I created to raise my children as a single mom for the last ten years. I’m getting ready to begin the next era of my life. All this sounds sensible, until sometimes I find myself as tearful and vulnerable as the day when my youngest left home three years ago.  This is the end of the era of my raising my children that I’m grieving. I find a folder of my son’s art work from grade school. Do I keep it? And what about his stuffed dragon, and favorite t-shirt when he was two? I stare at the photos of their little faces beaming at me from their childhoods. Now my engineer son gives me a G-1 cellphone and teaches me how to check email. He’s all for the move, thrilled I’ll be living in such an energy efficient house in a community of like minded people. He cheers me on, while my daughter calls from her apartment in Somerville, Mass, “But why do you have to leave my beautiful house?”

At bedtime, I take out my worn Tarot deck that I’ve used for years when I’ve asked for guidance. I slide the cards, face down, through my hands, asking the question, “Where am I in my life?”  Finally I pull out one card and turn it over and laugh. Of, course. I’ve chosen The Fool. A youth, smiling merrily, is stepping off a cliff. It is the ancient card for beginning a journey. I read from the book: “On an inner level, the Fool, is an image of the mysterious impulse within us to leap into the unknown. The conservative, cautious, realistic side of us watches with horror this wild, youthful spirit who, trusting in heaven, is prepared to walk over the cliff’s edge without a moment’s hesitation.” Yes, this is the beginning of the next adventure. I have always listened to the call for what is next.

In 1985, when I was thirty two I drove to Maine from California in a Honda Civic packed with all I owned, $300, and a vision: to start my practice, get married and have a family. As I sort through tapes for the yard sale, I find songs I belted out as I drove across county, the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin “Sisters are Doing It for Themselves.” Do I keep this tape or pass it on? What do I need for the life ahead? I imagine putting this on a tape player as we mop the Common House floor before a dance. Ok, I’ll keep it.

What do I save from the last eras for this, the next adventure? My life has been a series of leaps into the unknown. Many looked foolhardy and irrational from the outside. So this leap towards cohousing is the next stepping off the cliff. As a life strategy, it’s worked amazingly well for me. I’ve been incredibly fortunate and have followed an amazing  path, but it doesn’t mean it gets any more comfortable. I still wake up unsettled, but I trust in the vision this community of fine people is holding together. I trust in the foundation we are building month after month to create a life together. I’m not alone in this. We are all a community of fine fools, trusting in a vision of a life we’ll create together, stepping off the cliff.


Coleen and I are going to be renting a furnished beautiful house in Bayside this winter, and spend the summer in Geoff and Abby's spacious church sanctuary where we danced to rock and roll this summer. We'll have to do that again next summer!! What's kind of wild is that for years I've had thoughts of cool things I'd like to do someday: live in a church and spend a winter in Bayside. So now is the time to do both! After I described the cozy house in Bayside, my daughter can't wait to come for Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Steering The Process — Coleen O'Connell

Boats of various sizes, colors and design bob on Belfast Harbor in the late afternoon sun as five people pile into a little dinghy to row out to a sailboat moored near the landing. It is our weekly Steering Committee meeting. Sanna McKim, our Project Manager, has invited us to meet on her sailboat Tigger as a change of scenery from our headquarters on Edgecomb Road. Geoff Gilchrist, Wendy Watson, Denise Pendleton and myself have been working together weekly to literally “steer” our cohousing project forward. We haggle through issues of competing topics, delve into questions about the project that have arisen since our last meeting only a week ago, and prioritize the next steps to bring to our Equity members – those households who have committed their money and time to birth our intentional neighborhood. Certainly I had no idea when I joined this project that I was to become a developer. It never occurred to me as a child when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up that “developer” was even an aspiration or an option. Yet that is what I/we have all become in this project. We have bought land, designed homes and a Common House, and now we need to sell them in order to break ground.

The good news of today, Sanna reports, is that we received the final approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection that our project is environmentally sound. We have also cleared the old easement that was attached to our land, which the town needed that before granting final approval. Check. Check. Two more things off the list of “things that need to happen” to make this ecovillage a reality. So many little details tied to each other, so many ways to think about each piece of information, so many directions to go. We haggle about which one will follow next, questioning each other as to why that should be priority now over some other important aspect. Five good minds listening and questioning, and ultimately trusting that we are making good choices for all the other members who are not present.

It is a huge responsibility, but what I know to be true from my past experience of working closely with a group of people to make a dream come true is that we are building our community in the process. We are building relationships that will last us the rest of our lives. We are binding ourselves to each other in ways that are unseen on the surface but with each obstacle we tackle, each conflict resolved, each joy celebrated, the underlying web of interdependence is woven tighter and tighter. The juice, the chips and the dark chocolate almonds are gone. The sun has gone down behind the trees and the harbor loon starts calling. A few boats come in from the day. Today’s work is finished. The accomplishments are many. We look forward to the launching of our project come spring.