The Power of Cute: New research has revealed that looking at cute images of baby animals doesn’t just make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but can actually improve your work performance and help you concentrate. With her endless love of all things cute and cuddly, Claire’s going to end up a Zen master!
The Influence of Austen: A recent study has found that Jane Austen, author of “Pride and Prejudice, “ and Sir Walter Scott, the creator of “Ivanhoe,” had the greatest effect on other authors, in terms of writing style and themes.
40 Years In The Siberian Forest: Speaking of compelling reads, this new story in Smithsonian is almost unbelievable: a single family, living in the woods of Siberia for 40 years without any contact with other humans. Their pots and metal implements wear out, yet they survive. One is there still.
January 27th, 2013 is a big anniversary. Time to celebrate! I plan to rise early and spend a few quiet hours curled up with a copy of Persusion (I’ve read P&P lately, and winter puts me in the mood for Captain Wentworth) while I listen to Mozart’s violin sonatas.
Austen is a strong alternative voice in this time of all-pervasive technology. She reveals the true threads that hold society and community together, and the actions that rent them. She teaches us manners, of course, but also how to duck them when necessary, in favor of something wilder. We typically turn to the Brontes when we want to be windswept, but Miss Austen knows her way through the wilderness (and the poultry yard); it is a misconception that her characters spend their days wandering about the drawing room. David Ehrenfeld notes that although she rarely comments on nature directly, “Nature in Jane Austen’s works is like nature in the Hebrew Bible: it is there as a constant presence, it is an essential fact of life, and because of this it is rarely separated out for special comment.” Time to read Austen again, and with a fresh ear.
And Mozart! In the classical music world Beethoven gets all the “wild man” credit, but Mozart spent his short life composing in a frenzy, running all over Vienna through sun and snow on foot, with tiny pointed shoes. He felt the weather on his face and listened to the songs of birds. When he wrote Die Zauberflute, the “everyman” appears in the shape of Papageno, a feathered bird-man.
An auspicious day, indeed! How will you celebrate?
The new year is a traditional time for cleaning out closets and drawers, clearing out the old, and making way for the new. I want to make sure that the “new” for me is not new stuff, but a new level of simplicity, new avenues for happiness in daily life. Some time ago I began a practice I call “radical de-cluttering.” I started by going through all my closets and drawers, and giving away bags of stuff. Clothes went to the local charity, books to our beloved Pegasus Book Exchange. After this initial cleansing, I began to follow the usual anti-clutter guideline that appears in magazines and on “simplicity” blogs: whenever you acquire something, you give something similar away. New shirt? Out with an old piece of clothing. New book? Old book out. I quickly found that this was no challenge at all.
So I set a new rule for myself: One in, two out. Whenever I acquire something, I get rid of two things.
In my practice of radical de-cluttering, the things that come in and go out do not have to be the same thing. I can buy a book, say, and give away a pair of shoes and a flower pot. This allows me to re-dress imbalance, and to choose what I want to emphasize in my life (including a little joyful frivolity). Maybe I have too many hats, but could use a pair of garden clogs. Maybe I have too many books, but don’t care! Maybe I want to keep more and more books, and less and less of everything else until eventually I live with nothing but a library and a teacup!
I make exceptions: consumables such as food (obviously), but also other things that are regularly used up and replaced–office supplies, kitchen towels, socks. (This allows me a nice bit of room to cheat, since I am obsessed with office supplies, and I seem to let myself have as many notebooks and bottles of fountain pen ink as I want.) Otherwise, in my calculus a thing is a thing. I don’t care how big or how small it is, or how much it cost. A car counts for one thing, a book of poetry counts for one thing, and I don’t make exceptions for gifts I receive, or fabulous thrift store finds.
One in, two out. Even though I started by (I thought) thoroughly doing away with the superfluous, I am amazed that after about a year, the one in/two out rule is still very easy to live by. I am looking forward to it becoming difficult. I am hoping, one day, to get to the point that the material things I keep in my life are so well-chosen that I have to think deeply about any acquisition I make, to wonder, “Wow, if I really want this thing, then what will I give up?” To have to truly measure need/desire/authenticity. Maybe someday when I am aged and wise my possessions and my spirit will find themselves in perfect harmony–then maybe I’ll change to the one in/one out plan, or not bother to think about such things at all.
I love (to the point of obsession, really) the work of Lloyd Kahn, and have spent much of this month pouring over his newest volume, Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter. With my drastic need for privacy, and a daughter who plays cello, piano, guitar, and ukulele, I don’t envision us moving into a tiny home anytime soon. The airiness of our old farmhouse feels simple in its own right. But I do agree with Kahn’s feeling that everyone can find inspiration in the tiny shelter movement: “You can get ideas here for simplifying your life, wherever you live.”
Want to join me in Radical De-Cluttering? What other ways are you all simplifying in 2013?
Netherfield Ball +200: The BBC is staging a re-creating an entire Regency ball – to mark the 200th anniversary of Pride And Prejudice.
I have always been enamored of the mannered domesticity in Miss Austen’s novels. In a 90-minute special, experts will re-stage the planning and rehearsals for an early 19th century ball, as well as looking back at the first-hand testimony of ball-goers of the time. It will end with an authentic recreation based of the ball at Netherfield, a turning point in the romance between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy. Oh, please please! Someone invite me!
Kale Comes To Paris: An American woman, Kristin Beddard, recently launched a movement to bring what is often deemed the healthiest veggie in the world to her adoptive hometown, where it seems some Parisians believe that kale grows on trees.
Get Your Shit Together: The brainchild of Chanel Reynolds who lost her husband suddenly, the Get Your Shit Together website makes it easy to put your life, your data, your commitments, and your finances in one easy organized online place. I know I’m inspired. Just do it!
The other day Tom and I were on our way to pick Claire and her friend up from the local movie theater, where they’d seen “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” We must have been 30 seconds late, because my phone dinged with a text: Where r u?! As we approached we spotted them standing in front of the theater, but it wasn’t until we pulled right up to the curb and were about to yell out the window for them to hop in that we realized, “That’s not Claire and Helen!” It was two other 14-ish year old girls wearing black leggings, Ugg boots, hooded jackets, upswept ponytails, and holding phones.
Desmond Morris was a renowned animal ethologist for decades before turning to humans as his subject, and publishing The Naked Ape in 1967 (inspiration for a 1980s PBS series). In his extensive study of human behavior, Morris explores the many biological activities that humans share with animals, including: sex; the rearing of young; exploration and migration; finding food; the formation of groups, flocks and tribes; and the seeking of comfort. Morris is intrigued by the ways these biological behaviors have shaped themselves to fit the parameters of modern human population centers, urban places, and technological interface. I was fascinated by his thoughts on the need for humans, and humans that are coming-of-age in particular, to conform to a group through clothing, jewelry, and even mode of communication.
When my independent-minded, free-spirited young daughter became a teenager, suddenly concerned with wearing the exact same clothes as everyone else and talking to her friends primarily via text-message, I felt like a failure. Naomi Klein’s No Logo is coffee table reading in this house, and now my kid only wants to shop at Hollister. Where did I go wrong? Morris’s work re-frames this: no, she’s not a mindless conformist zombie automaton. She’s seeking–and finding–group identity, as humans her age have always done, through the culturally recognized adornments of the day.
Working to change the culture and construct more meaningful identifiers than those desirable by Claire’s peer group over time is an essential goal; but in the meantime, foisting my hippie ways on a teenager who has to go school every day might actually run counter to her positive psycho-biological development. A positive feeling of peer security and belonging at this difficult age sets the stage for creative/artistic individuation in the later teenage years, and into adulthood. Does this mean that I buy her every little conformist tidbit she thinks she wants? Yeah, uh, no. But I do think more compassionately about what these things mean for kids her age.
For more on creating meaningful cultural identities from birth to death, I highly recommend Bill Plotkin’s Nature and the Human Soul.
[Apologies to all the commenters on this post: we had a techno-glitch, and your comments were lost.]
Public Domain Class of 2013The works of these authors go into the public domain this year across the European Union, Russia, Brazil, Israel, and other places with a sensible author’s life + 70 years copyright policy (not the USA…). Lucy Maude Montgomery!
Alcoholic Monkeys These vervet monkeys in St Kitts have developed a taste for liquor(YouTube). Sneaky monkeys! (Tom reminded me that we had seen the same behavior by vervet monkeys in coastal Kenya, and have this photo to prove it.)
Happy New Year, everyone! Here is my first confession of 2013: I’m a planner geek-nerd-obsessive. I love the tactile and aesthetic delights of a paper planner, as well as the practical benefits. Opening a new planner on January 1 is something I start looking forward to weeks before the calendar page actually flips. I absolutely agree with Daven Allen (productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done, or “GTD” to his many disciples), who believes that if we are always trying to remember what we have to do (or want to do), and when we need to do it, then our brain will never be free to tend its higher purposes: creative work, art, serenity.
For me, planning is not about “productivity” in the material sphere: working more to make more money, to “get ahead,” or get more stuff. It’s about making sure my precious days reflect my life priorities. In addition to doing good professional work (writing, speaking, teaching), I also want to keep a harmonious household, and have time to focus on my family.
Beyond that, there are the “idle pleasures” that make us whole people. For me, these include knitting and sewing, learning French, practicing violin, studying birds, and walking aimlessly through the woods. A good planning system keeps me from frittering my days away mindlessly, and gives me a kind of creative productivity that allows more freedom and joy in my days.
For years, I’ve been pretty much in love with my Franklin-Covey planner, and after so much use the green leather binder that houses the planning pages has become worn and inviting. So for me it’s kind of a big deal that this year I’ve decided to “date other planners,” and am trying the Planner Pad, recommended to me by Waverly Fitzgerald, author of the meditative book, Slow Time: Recovering the Natural Rhythm of Life (which I reviewed here).
The Planner Pad breaks through the simple linearity of most calendars. You can find out all about it on their website, but essentially it works like this: Each week appears on a two page spread. The top third of these pages is divided into seven columns that you label as you choose–each column representing a particular project, role, goal, or theme in your life. These can change week to week, as needed.
Possible labels I might use include: Current Book Project, Tangled Nest, Speaking/Teaching, Household/Family, Meal Planning, Garden, Radiant Health, Craft/DIY, Personal, and perhaps a column for Dreams/Wild Imaginings (even hardcore GTD-ers have such a category, which they label “Someday/Maybe”). I suppose “Other” would also be a useful category.
In each column, you record the most important things you want to accomplish, or anything else you want to remember to think about regarding that theme. In the middle third of the pages, the columns are labeled Monday through Sunday, and in the blank lines underneath, you create your daily to-dos, drawn from the intentions written above. The bottom third is for specific appointments and time-based scheduling.
This all seems more organic to me than a typical planner, and full of possibility for focusing more clearly on priorities, dreams, and intentions, rather than becoming lost in daily to-do lists. There are also full-page month views, planning calendars for the coming three years, and plenty of blank pages for notes (these I’ve index-tabbed, and use for things like lists of books I want to read, films I want to see, gift ideas for friends and family, quotes and words I’d like to use in my writing, and a record of birds seen in my yard).
The Planner Pad ain’t pretty. It comes in a rather clinical black or green, with a plain, executive look. In an attempt at aesthetics, they created a colorful “Seasons” version, which isn’t at all to my taste. Even so, I find that with my colored inks, my post-it notes-to-self, and the images I always tape into my planner, this notebook is already starting to look quite Lyanda-ish.
Poet Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” What tools do you use in seeking an answer to this question? As a planner nerd, I’d love to hear about them.
Happy Solstice, dear readers! Assuming the world doesn’t end today (or even if it does) I wish you all a peaceful, joyful season.
On the Summer Solstice (also our wedding anniversary) a couple of years ago, Tom, Claire, and I set out to climb the highest temple in the Mayan ruins at Tikal before sunrise. We sat hushed above the silent jungle canopy, as the birds and animals slowly came to life with the growing light.
I love this dark winter season, and the promise of light the Solstice brings (something we cling to here in Seattle, where darkness settles at about 4 p.m. these days–we are getting two more hours of darkness than our friends in L.A.!). Solstices have long been a time for celebrating the connection and balance between light and dark, heaven and earth, inner and outer.
In this bustling time of year, “outer” takes care of itself. In an effort to tend the “inner,” I’ll be leaving technology behind for a few days. Maybe some of you will join me in letting go of unessential screen time, Facebook, and the blogosphere for a short while, in hopes of entering more wholly this season of darkness-into-light. The Tangled Nest will resume after Epiphany, January 6.