28 September 2009

Saying hard things out loud

Sharon Astyk has written another great post about how our lifestyle is going to change, like it or not, and how it should change, if we are to avert environmental catastrophe. I strongly recommend that you stop reading this post and go over to Sharon's right now. We'll continue when you get back. Go. Now.

Welcome back. I think she absolutely nails it here. Other folks have nibbled around the edges of the idea that there is no possibility of successfully maintaining western lifestyles, but very few have said it so plainly. Sharon makes a very good case in her books and blog that in fact, a very satisfying and rich life can be lived while consuming dramatically less, but I would suggest that she is preaching to the choir. The more mainstream writers and thinkers on the environment are very careful to conclude with something optimistic (meaning that there is something that can be done to keep things the way they are) or else they don't get heard. Madeleine and I went to a lecture recently about packaging and the environment given by an industrial design professor and his last slide, entitled "reasons for hope" was decidedly unhopeful, but I overheard him telling someone before his talk that he was told to include something positive by the talk's organizer. When I asked him during the Q and A why no one will say out loud how consumption must and will radically change, he said that the "suicide slide" (you know that picture of environmental devastation, somewhere else) had gone out of favour lately.

I think where Sharon succeeds is that she presents a vision that is not suicide and is not air conditioning powered by wind. Given the inevitability of less material wealth in the future, and the happy coincidence that beyond a minimum level, increased wealth is not associated with increased happiness, we might do ourselves a favour by dreaming a life for ourselves and our children that does not involve striving for more and in fact involves considerable striving for less.

Striving for less, it turns out, is hard. You are going against your internal wiring, your education, your religion, your spouse and kids, and the daily bombardment of messages from your culture. It's difficult to prepare for a different future when energy is cheap, food is plentiful, and the weather is fine. But change is coming and it's very possible that individuals making changes in how they live now won't make any difference in that, but it can't hurt to have people around who are prepared and content and comfortable with less, rather than angry and disappointed that they can't have more. We're heading into uncharted territory and I welcome hearing voices that go beyond protecting the status quo at all costs and offer realistic, if difficult visions of the future. And that remind us that it is quite possible to act in a way that is consistent with a reasonable life now and for our grandkids.

14 September 2009

You can't really blame this guy

If you're like me, you sometimes wonder who the heck these "ordinary Canadians" are, anyway? And how is it that they supposedly get to tell the government what they want and I don't? And why on earth do they expect so little? Given the imminent threat of an election, we're going to be hearing an awful lot about what these "ordinary Canadians" want so I decided to do a little research to see if I could find out more about them.

It wasn't easy to get this information, but with a bit of digging I found the following: "Ordinary Canadians" are actually just one fellow. You don't know his name, but you probably remember him. He's that guy that got whooped by the 60 year old Swede back in 1973 - Phil. He still hasn't quite gotten over the humiliation of that Participaction commercial (which showed the evenly matched jogging but not the double dutch or drunken bar fight which both ended badly) but he did eventually find some success selling cleaning supplies. He's got one adult son, who lives in the basement and still mourns his mother leaving when he was a child. He has 4 step children who seem to enjoy producing grandchildren for their mother, especially if she babysits them most of the time. His second wife, Frances, though her lessons were cut short as a child, is an enthusiastic accordian player. His first wife, Marcia, now lives in Stockholm with a charming and fit older gentleman.

Phil has been enjoying his retirement pretty much, but there is the problem of the pollsters who call everyday. Phil hasn't been able to hear right since Lars popped him back in '73 and that damned polka music playing in the background and all those kids tearing around don't help so he has developed a simple strategy for dealing with the telephone intrusion. He yells into the phone that he strongly agrees and please don't call me again. Somehow, all the political parties have gotten his number and he's considering changing it due to the continuous disruption, but he won't because he still holds out hope that Marcia might call and tell him that Lars had been hit by a Saab on one of his daily runs and she wants him to take her back.

08 September 2009

Unschool report

Last year, I blogged about unschooling from the hopeful and optimistic perspective of one who had read and thought quite a bit about it, but had no actual experience. This year, I write from the hopeful and optimistic perspective of one with one whole year of experience.

Much to my surprise, things have turned out much like I expected. I was disappointed last January when M decided to register at the local public school and pleased when six weeks later she decided that the academics weren't challenging enough and the middle school social dramas weren't worth it. I promised to be supportive of the whole exercise and I believe I was in spite of my misgivings. Ever since that foray back to school, M and I seem to have settled into our lives with more confidence that we are on the right track. It's M who wants to know she is keeping up with her peers in school and wants to do more "schooly" activities. I'm more content to have her pursue her own interests, whatever they are. Luckily, M is very interested in cell biology and physics and animals and paleontology and string theory and knitting and sewing and all kinds of music and not so much in video games or Jonas Brothers. This makes it easy for me to be supportive without much tooth grinding.

The questions I get about unschooling seem mostly concerned with whether I'm convinced that this approach will allow M to compete with conventionally schooled people for higher education and jobs. I question the assumption behind that question that life is some kind of race and we should all be in a hurry to get somewhere else. I do trust that by taking responsibility for her education from a young age, she will be in at least as good a position to do whatever she wants as someone who has just done as they were told for 15 or so years.

The thing that pleases me most about our unschooling adventure so far is how much easier our mother-daughter relationship is. I was kind of worried before we started about how we would get along while spending so much time together. It turns out that much of the conflict in our lives was around school - getting up for it, getting enough sleep for it, completing homework, and being cranky because of the stress of it. Without all that getting in the way, we get along just fine and have a lot of fun.

01 September 2009

Marge, we hardly knew ye

April 28, 2009 - September 1, 2009
Marge, our beautiful golden chicken was snatched from us this morning leaving only some feathers to mark the spot where she last foraged for bugs. Marge will be fondly remembered as the free-thinking chicken who found a spot in the centre of a rather large juniper bush to lay her eggs, much to our chagrin. The prime suspect is the rather bold coyote who has been previously described. Unfortunately, the daily routine of the remaining five hens has changed as a result of this daylight attack. It's tempting to confine them to their chicken tractor for their own protection, but they obviously get so much pleasure out of their unconfined chicken lives, we'll still let them free range in the afternoons. I'm sure the coyote will soon be on to our new schedule, but we'll be supervising activities in the yard very closely from here on.


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