My friend Ken emailed this morning to announce he’s taking a job as the Experimental Farm Manager for The Chef’s Garden, a family vegetable farm in Huron, Ohio that sells high end produce to chefs all around the country. His job will be to test “heirloom” vegetable seeds to determine which ones might be worth developing into new products for restaurants.
Ever since we lived together in Chicago (and for a while in Boston), our conversations have regularly grappled with the topics of place and work. During the last few years, this conversation has traveled as he and Irene moved from Chicago to Uganda, to an organic farm in Wisconsin, to a small town in rural Wyoming, to the farm they bought earlier this year in north central Indiana. Most of the time we’ve sustained the conversation by phone, though we’ve also found ways to chat in person while hiking in the mountains of Utah and while dining at an Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End.
This move to Ohio is an exciting development for Ken, and I look forward to the new places our conversation will travel in the coming months. He and Irene will have to sell the farm and uproot again, which probably doesn’t feel ideal since their hope was to settle down a bit and be intentional about living in a rural area closer to family. But in many ways this new move continues to honor their ideals, so it seems like a great opportunity. I’m sorry that I didn’t get to visit them while they lived in Indiana, but I can’t wait to visit their new place in Ohio in the near future.
This afternoon I was in the middle of writing up comments on Ella’s personal essay when I was interrupted by a reporter and cameraman from Fox News doing interviews for an upcoming segment on wireless security issues. They asked if I’d be willing to chat about the ways I use my laptop to access wireless networks. After clearing a seat for the reporter and threading the microphone up my sweater, I explained how Cafenation has become part of my dissertation-writing routine in large part because of its free wireless connection and how this has give me greater flexibility in deciding where I would work.
I was sitting in my regular spot—the table near the back where I can get the best wireless signal strength and plug into an outlet when my battery goes dead. The café was full of activity, with two children behind me pretending to be fishing from the couch and with the baristas navigating around the cameraman to deliver pesto chicken crepes and coffee to other customers.
When the segment airs on the late news next Tuesday, I hope they’ll include my plug for Cafenation so that it gets some well-deserved publicity. What’s more likely is that I’ll say something to reveal my ignorance of wireless security threats, and I will serve to represent the throngs of hapless wireless users whose laptops are ripe for hacking. Since it’s Fox, it’s bound to be dramatic. By the end of the segment, viewers will feel sorry for me, blissfully drinking my light roast coffee and surfing the web as some malicious wardriver reads my emails and steals my identity. Maybe watching myself on Tuesday night will motivate me into figure out if I actually need to be worried.
On the day that the Kyoto Protocol is going into affect, it seems fitting to mention a few web design and hosting companies dedicated to promoting environmental responsibility in cyberspace.
With a tag lines “Connecting people and planet” and “websites powered by the wind,” Earthsite’s mission is to offer “green marketing and design services with renewable energy hosting.” This the first hosting service I’ve run across that uses renewable energy to run its business, a choice that grounds cyberspace in the realities of energy use and material design.
From this site I linked to two San Francisco design firms, Conscious Creative and Digital Hive that both aim to integrate sustainable practices with the communication design. Conscious Creative’s site has won the “Environmentally Friendly Website Award” which recognizes “websites that have gone the extra mile towards making a real change to our environment.”
What I find interesting about these companies is their efforts to define ecological design not just in terms of the clients they tend to serve–environmentally and socially conscious organizations–but also in terms of more material issues, such as how they power their servers and what kinds of paper they print brochures on.
Our noon basketball games made it into the news again, this time in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
After starring at UMass, Skinner played in the ABA, NBA and overseas from 1974-81. He was a teammate and roommate of Julius Erving on the New York Nets. Now 52, Skinner’s playing style and competitiveness are still evident in the weekday noon pickup games he plays in against assorted BC professors, administrators, the stray assistant football coach and gym rats.
“Al plays like it’s the NBA Finals, and he’s behind,” said Bill Toof, 59, the ex-BC ski coach now handling the football team’s game analysis operation. “Al doesn’t like to lose. One day I told our athletic director, ‘Hey, when are we going to get a basketball coach? Al can’t be a basketball coach. He’s not a big enough [jerk].’ Other [coaches] were full of themselves, impressed with themselves. Al is a genuinely nice man who is a competitor — a fierce competitor.”
Once again, they omitted the category of “grad student set shooters” from the list of Coach’s opponents. What’s a guy got to do to get a little respect around here?
Hank emailed to let me know about a new journal he and some of his colleagues put together this past month. Several of them are graduate students inthe University of Montana environmental writing.
As they describe it, Wild Thoughts “provides high-quality nature-based art, poetry, photography, fiction, and essays from everywhere, to everyone online. We have opinions, we have talent, and we have a stake in the more-than-human world. We have Wild Thoughts.”
Check it out.
I realized when I got to Kurt’s Super Bowl party in Cambridge tonight that the only reason I had come was so that I could bike home afterward.
After all, it was already the fourth quarter and I had only watched about five minutes of the game so far–not the game, actually, but rather the last few minutes of the halftime show and a brilliant car commercial, the one with the frozen guy in the convertible and with the clear allusions to the movie Fargo. And after all, I decided this fall that I no longer believe in football, which left me little choice but to boycott the game.
What I’m really interested, of course, is not the games themselves but the way winning championships transforms the city as a public space, the way it draws people out into the streets and creates a happening, one that makes you want to be out and about to take it all in. I figured that if I timed things right I could eat a few chips and chat with folks in the back of the room until the Patriots won and then bike home to watch the revelers as the spilled out into Harvard Square and Commonwealth Ave, as they did during my post-World Series victory tour.
This time, however, there was very little to see after the Vince Lombardy trophy was presented and the last nachos eaten. A few horns were honked, a few people stood on the corner near out of town news yelling to passing cars, a few others stood in the median of Mass Ave with their cameras, waiting to see what would happen. But it all felt forced, like they were trying too hard.
It made me think of my ride to St. James’s this morning when the sun and warmer temperatures (40 degrees) inspired people to strip down to T-shirts and shorts. When I passed the members of the Tufts men’s cross country team on their Sunday morning run down Mass Ave, half of them had their shirts off. It was if they were trying to will spring into being by the irrational act of removing clothing. With the way the wind cut threw my thick fleece, I would guess that spring didn’t feel any closer by the time they finished their jog.
By the time I got home, the most noticeable activity I had witnessed was the sudden swell of traffic. It made me miss the quiet of my bike ride over, when I felt like it was Christmas Eve and I was the only one not home with my family. Even with the traffic, Allston still felt a bit deserted and just a bit pathetic, with all the parked cars cleared from the streets and only a few people out to fill the void.
So I was just glad to get home without hitting an ice patch or getting squeezed into a parked car. It was just another World Championship, and hopefully we’ll all move on with life more quickly because of it.
Today it feels like Lent began a few days early.
Monica and I walked over to Coolidge Corner just around midday to catch the 1:30 showing of “Hotel Rwanda.” It was a gorgeous, spring-like day, with 50 degree temperatures helping the city shed a few layers of snow, dissolving the improvised landscape of snowbanks and pathways into an even less organized mire of puddles and slush. As we navigated the sidewalk along Harvard Avenue, we talked about Monica’s recent trip to Uganda and her other trips to Africa in the past. But we still weren’t really prepared for where the movie would take us, into one man’s experience of the Rwandan genocide. It was a harrowing experience—the most emotionally difficult movie I’ve seen—and we couldn’t help but leave the theater in a very different place than when we entered.
It was hard to know what to do for the rest of the day after a movie like that. It’s the kind of experience that creates an opening inside me for a moment, a space in which I am awake and attentive to the needs of the world, a space in which I want to be a different person and respond in a significant way. It’s an opening in which priorities are clear and I can tell what’s valuable and what isn’t.
And I knew the opening wouldn’t last long. As I walked around Trader Joe’s, absent-mindedly putting Cage-Free eggs, pancake mix, and dish soap in my basket, I could feel the inner space already beginning to close as my own concerns and desires and distractions began to crowd in. I tried to keep prying it open as we walked back up Harvard Ave, and our conversation about Africa became a means of keeping the sense of awareness from fogging over too quickly.
I think that’s all I can do in these situations. This inner space won’t last forever, and I won’t change overnight. My life as a graduate student will continue for now. I will keep sitting in front of the computer, designing web sites, commenting on student essays. I won’t immediately go to Africa and work to stop the genocide in Darfur. But I have to hope that when an experience like this stretches my insides open to include a bit more of the world’s pain, that it won’t return to exactly the same shape it was before. There’s nothing I can do to prevent myself from closing down; I’m just not strong enough or compassionate enough to remain so deeply aware of poverty and injustice as something more than an abstraction.
But I need to find a few simple things to do in response, actions that will keep the inner space from closing entirely, wedges that hopefully that will make it easier to create openings in the future.
It seems like this is what Lent is for. Praying for openings and then paying attention. Finding small ways to keep them from closing all the way when they appear. Then starting over again.