It All Turns on Affection

Wendell Berry was AMAZING.  Seeing him in person was wonderful.  When I was a sophomore in college, Jane and I were in the same humanities class that forced us to read Jayber Crow. Neither of us actually read it during the semester, but I’m the eternal geek and read it after the semester ended.  I’m glad I did; his writing brought a whole new perspective to me.  It sounds cheesy, but his mellifluous words taught me to see the world as a whole, not just focusing on the small piece that I make up – I finally began to catch hold of the idea of season, of continuity, of communalism, of redemption.

You can find the link to Berry’s message at the Kennedy Center here.

The argument of Howards End has its beginning in a manifesto against materialism:

“It is the vice of a vulgar mind to be thrilled by bigness, to think that a thousand square miles are a thousand times more wonderful than one square mile . . . That is not imagination. No, it kills it. . . . Your universities? Oh, yes, you have learned men who collect . . . facts, and facts, and empires of facts. But which of them will rekindle the light within?14″ 

“The light within,” I think, means affection, affection as motive and guide. Knowledge without affection leads us astray every time. Affection leads, by way of good work, to authentic hope. The factual knowledge, in which we seem more and more to be placing our trust, leads only to hope of the discovery, endlessly deferrable, of an ultimate fact or smallest particle that at last will explain everything.

Oh my.

Since part of my life involves math now, studying for the GRE and all, I have realized that I have not posted in 132 days.  I’m sorry, especially to Jane, who is basically running this thing by herself.

So, begin update:

1. Travel goals: get out of this city at least once a month.

The past few months, I have definitely been able to accomplish this goal, mostly by taking a break from the Baltimore air and visiting people in DC. But, more recently, I have been able to go to Charlotte (the city of trees!) on the longest Megabus trip of my life.  If you’ve ever wondered, “Who are those people who get the $1 fares?”, you can wonder no more.  This one (you can’t see me pointing at myself, but I am right now).  So the 8-hour bus ride was worth it. I also traveled to the Raleigh area to spend some time on Bear Tooth Farm. Shameless plug: please like them on Facebook. Most recently, I traveled to Chicago to spend time downtown, and actually experience real Chicago pizza (which was awesome).

Unfortunately, on all of these trips, I forgot my camera and/or camera battery.  So, no cool pictures exist to document these travels. But they happened, trust me.

2. Take the GRE by the end of March.

Right after Christmas, I bought all the GRE materials I could justify, I briefly considered signing up for the classes (for about 2 seconds, until I realized that they cost the equivalent of 3.5 months of rent), and downloaded all of the materials I could find.  In the middle of January, I found myself in the library studying. I dedicated myself to index cards full of vocabulary words and Latin and Greek roots. But, every single time the GRE books would accidentally fall open to pages full of circles, Pythagorean theorems, y-axes, and charts, I would get nervous. A sweat would break out on across my forehand. I would frantically flip back to my colorful vocabulary cards, and feel at ease again. Because of my math procrastination (math-crastination, if you will), I missed my personal deadline of finishing up the GRE by the end of March.  But the time is coming (and now is) when I will take the GRE – hopefully before Memorial Day.  These circles can’t find their perimeters by themselves, you know.

3. Meet Wendell Berry.

So maybe this was originally “Meet Josh Groban”, but… Wendell Berry’s coming! Tomorrow! He’s coming!

4. Read 500 books by the time I’m 30.

Thank you, Hunger Games trilogy, for helping me knock out three more books.

#24: Make One Item of Clothing (and wear it in public).

(Had to get off my two-tracks for a minute or two. Transcribing interviews is kind of mind numbing. So, hello!)

I recently read “Year of Plenty:” a book about a family who commits to following a few strict consumption rules for a whole year. I have a bad memory for book specifics, but the gist is this: buy local, buy used, buy handmade– get to know the people behind your stuff.

This wasn’t an earth-shattering or life-changing concept for me. Ty and I try to be mindful of the things that pass through our kitchen (and, inevitably– through us). Soon, we will plant a garden. For the last few months, we have been buying the most delicious fresh eggs from these people (except right now we have a $3 credit and NO EGGS…ahem).  We have a freezer so full of deer meat and fresh-frozen corn that you have to be sure each item you remove isn’t the keystone of the stack, causing the whole frozen heap to fall at your feet. We started baking fresh bread. More on that here. Look at that bread!

Our food habits are progressing–or maybe more accurately, regressing. Which is something that is getting a lot of attention, right now. People are paying attention to the Food Inc.’s and the Michael Pollen’s because people have to eat.

I am not a farmer, and I can hardly call myself a contributor to our little garden. In an small way, I understand that growing food is–at the same time– really hard work, and something that is so much a part of humanness that those of us who aren’t doing it are missing out on something.

For me, I feel that way about sewing quilts. Taking a quilt idea from my head to real life is a long process. (Sometimes, I forget just how long it is– hi, Marlyn!) But, through the process, I put pieces of me into the quilt (sometimes hairy real-life pieces of me… and my cat), and the creating gives me something right back. For me, sewing can be therapy, community. I feel so strongly about this, that I’ve spent the last year of my life researching, preparing for, writing about, and actually quilting with grieving middle schoolers.

So, who knows why it took so long for me to make the connection between all of this, and the actual human beings that make the clothes on my back. The point is, I understand that the making-of-things is special– bordering on sacred. So, for me to ignore the reality that: a.) I  have no relationship to the fingers that stitched my clothing and b.) some of those fingers are treated poorly, is beyond hypocritical.

So, what am I going to do about it?

The first thing– and the actual item on my 30 before 30 list– is to actually try my hand at making an item of clothing. I can sew one straight line after another to make a quilt, but clothing is an entirely different animal. So, I’m going to be realistic here, and say that I want to make one piece of clothing– probably a skirt– and be confident enough to wear it in public. Maybe I’ll be awesome at it, and will venture into other pieces. (This brings up a whole new question about the production of cotton that I am currently choosing to ignore, hypocrite that I am.)

Knowing that I will never be a self-sufficient wardrobe factory, I also want to try to be more mindful about my consumption and use of the clothing I do buy.

For example, on Friday, I forced myself to repair a shirt that I damaged the second time I wore. I bought the shirt on clearance, so I could have bought a new one and still paid less than the price of one full-priced shirt, but I didn’t. So, that’s a start.

Additionally, a friend posted this link on Facebook, yesterday. The site grades clothing, jewelry, food, electronic, and producers of other items based on policies, worker rights, transparency, and monitoring. (Son of a…! M & M’s got a D-. Ignorance is bliss.) The site doesn’t have a comprehensive list, but it’s a start, and I wonder how many other sites are doing the same type of ratings.

So, that’s where I am. Hopefully soon, you’ll see me on the streets, sadder but wiser, deprived of M & M’s and sporting a less-than-perfect, but handmade-by-me skirt.

Two-Track Mind

April is halfway over, and I haven’t given an update. I haven’t made progress on anything because right now I have a two-track mind.

Run. Write. Run. Write. Write. Run. Run. Write.

I (mentally) write as I run, and if I could figure out a way to run while I write, I would do that, too.

I have one month to finish my thesis, and two months to learn how to run 13.1 miles, and everything else can just wait.

Including this blog.

See you in a month. (I hope.)