Questioning the Community We Reside In

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Years ago in a graduate school course, I was required to read Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam.  The premise of this book being that those cultural norms in postwar America such as bowling leagues and church (community and civic organizations) have been left behind in modern America. As a result this absence in community involvement is having an impact on our health as well as our nation’s stability (as I write these words many in Baltimore feel saddened and are seized by this instability–praying for you Baltimore).  This book was published in 2001 before the advancements of social media.  The words and warnings of Putnam’s work has become more prevalent as we’ve become greatly enamored by our cyber communities.

On Sunday, I sat at my daughter’s softball practice.  Besides the coaches and one other parent, I was the only other adult present.  The other parent and I sat far apart.  I chose to be near a tree to block the wind and he closer to home plate.  We didn’t nod, didn’t say hello, didn’t really exist in any sort of sameness–two pods separate, and yet still there together.  He had a phone conversation and I wrote parts of this post.  Community??

I have wondered a lot about so much aloneness and what it means for ourselves and our kids–for our hearts emotionally and physically.  We’ve all read the headlines–”Loneliness Kills” or “Get a Dog, or Better Yet a Friend!”  But do we?

My children and I love to read (we are a family of shy introverts as the above mentioned  softball practice could have indicated to you).  Reading is a natural recharge for when we are overtired from to much extroversion.  Lately, I have read (again) out loud The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.   We read of a bygone era where community did not socialize behind computer monitors or flashy touch screen phones.  We are falling in love with Almanzo as Laura did during this week of reading and sometimes sighing wishing we too could be at home or in town with the Ingalls family.  In These Happy Golden Years there are so many moments of coming together in community–singing, sleigh rides, celebrations, community entertainment, worship, learning, and even the day-to-day archaic act of calling on your neighbor.

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

The unhappiest moments for Laura are when she is separated from her family or her community.  In the monotony of the day to day, she looks forward to the renewing of her spirit through communal activities, which made life joyous and worth getting up for.

Today, we’ve lost something.  I don’t know about you, but for me Facebook isn’t causing any spiritual renewal, and Pinterest almost daily makes me question my drapery choices, the negative attributes of my dog’s breed, and why my cooking doesn’t look like the picture.  Yet, I still click when I hear their Siren call.  But, why do I do it?  It is a high–I’m seeking my dose of Facebook endorphins.    If someone likes or comments on a post–”ZING” it feels good…if they share my stats…Ooh just hook me up and let it drip…I’m addicted!  However, the high is not lasting and if you want to see what a slippery slope it is click here.

So as I contemplated all that social media is and isn’t for me I recognize this:

  1. While social media is a community of sorts a majority of posts are centrally about the poster (an egocentric action)
  2. I am often posting about myself (egocentric)

&

  1. In the past communities described by Putnam and Ingalls Wilder the activities in the community were often altruistic or mutualistic
  2. When I am online I rarely experience altruistic or mutualistic relationships

(Note–the Amish have very little instances of depression in their society and what kind of community do they immerse themselves into???  I’m not saying their culture is perfect–I’m just connecting some dots for myself…)

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

In some ways I do love social media.  It gives me a chance to see my sister, cousins, and friends who live states and countries away from me, but in the next breath I spurn how we as a society have become combative in public shirking interaction (I’m guilty as I previously mentioned) because it is easier to text or FB in a cyber community rather than really let ourselves know and be known–there is smoke and mirrors sort of safety behind these screens.  Maybe the illusion isn’t what we need–maybe we need the gritty, the hard, the heartbreaking, and mostly the joy that comes with being humans together–face to face, hand in hand, and definitely heart to heart happily and golden throughout our years.

Just some pondering for today.

Five Cups of Coffee: Confessions of a Compulsive Home DIY-er

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I don’t typically drink coffee.  I enjoy a mug on occasion, but I’m a non-caffenated herbal tea gal.  However through last night and today, I had five cups.  It was simply a dangerous experiment on staying awake…

You see–when you are pulling away at  or removing the layers that make a life so very discombobulated–that life seems even more frazzled and hectic at the time (like mine right now).  It’s like spring cleaning–pulling out drawers, opening cabinets, pulling it all out to remove the unessential, and then scouring and shining all that is left…it is messy, hectic (your room is disarranged) and then as stuff is eliminated the important things regain their sparkle, importance and you see the “beauty in what remains.”

I live in a house that needs work.  I own a house (my previous residence) that needed a huge amount of work.  My friends call it insanity.  My dad told me it is simply good economics (most economists would disagree).  We are a D.I.Y. family–four daughters of a contractor–we married our beloved husbands because they get our D.I.Y. nature…they get the nuttiness of it all and they sort-of understand the economics (the housing market in the last decade has made the math fuzzy).  Often, we buy the least desirable homes in our communities and remake them–rework them to be beloved and magnificent.  It is hard work.  Camera crews don’t follow us around and makeup artists don’t make us beautiful (but our husbands think we are kinda of cute with paint in our hair).  We know our way around a hardware store.  We lift 5 gallon buckets of paint, flooring and roofing materials.  We get our hands dirty, we get frustrated, we get mad, but underneath the heavy emotions and broken fingernails of it all we love it.  It is our family work–our business.  I’ve been married for 12 years and have upgraded/restored five (now working on six) houses with my husband and parents.  Today, I am one week away from letting go of number 5–getting it ready for its future family.  I’m the finisher in this marriage (the one with patience to use the tiniest paint brush in an tight corner).  I paint, stain, polish, get lunch ready for my family, and bless and curse the house that is still ours but not really ours.  Last night on a deadline, I grabbed for coffee and went through the night.  Five cups later–I’m back in my home state and in my new house that needs its own level of work (it is the ugliest house we’ve bought so far…but we don’t say it very loudly–we don’t want to hurt its feelings).

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

So I’m left to ponder after the sawdust settles, “Is this real estate passion simple, minimalistic, what I want?”  “No” and “yes” all at the same time.  I am tired.  We live our lives in the houses that we give a huge amount of spit and shine–living in a remodel is not for the weak (but it is strengthening).  If you’ve done the math you can see we’ve never stayed much beyond two years.  Now we want to plant roots and  have a family home.  But I love the challenge of a new vision, the aching back (albeit my husband’s back aches far more than mine), the solution of reworking materials to save the earth and the budget…it is a different sort of fun, but the point being it makes one discombobulated and life really messy…  And as nice as HGTV makes it seem…it is never easy.  Worth it?  Sometimes.  Simple?  Never.

IMG_0096

So in my life right now I’m pulling back the layers…leaving one place…and really not seeking anymore D.I.Y. adventures.  The walls of this house–the one that I live today–a little crooked and things are far from perfect, but I’m accepting of that for now.  Pulling back the layers…I can see that I want more time for my kids, more time with friends, more hours in the sunshine, and our house is just fine for all of those things… Will I completely stop living a D.I.Y. life–nope (it is part of who I am)–but I am taking (for me) a radical step back and making sure my personal community of people (family and friends) know me better and see me often.  Unlike my life now–where I hung out with Al at the local hardware store this past weekend and we discussed painting, electrical, and the trends on the stock market on my five different visits.  I’ll miss Al, but to be honest my son has a way cuter smile.  Those kids of mine are the “beauty in what remains.”

smiling kids

Minimalism: When the heart is onto it but life is a little behind

Baby GoatsOpening day at a local farm venue–the activity was free and the weather almost balmy for the beginning of April.  My sweet sister and I took our children to gawk at the chicks, feed the baby goats, and learn about Native American culture.  The rest of the families in the city had the same notion, and we were met with crowds.  The day didn’t turn out quite as blissful as planned, but the kids had fun–success.

Caleb and Adi 2


Days later, I am still pondering the life of Native Americans.  The guide for the Native American lodge was very knowledgeable about her people’s traditions and tales. She offered a glimpse into a culture that survived communally and washed in a belief that the natural world should be respected and cherished.  Each plant, animal and season had a purpose, a message, a cause to exist, and therefore was worthwhile.  But I digress.

The housing–I can’t stop thinking about their houses.  You see right now as I type this, it is late Sunday night and I’ve crossed over back to my home state line with a trailer full of stuff– small tools, boxes of garage items that haven’t been opened in three years, golf clubs that I haven’t used since before my first child was born, and a few lonesome house plants.  Yes I declare myself a minimalist, and my extended family laughs at my paltry pieces of housewares that I make do with because I want to live with less and a kitchen knife is my type of food processor (I’m good with having just enough…I thought).  But right now I’m cleaning out what remains in my former home, and it is too much.  Too much of my weekend has gone to digging through stuff.  Too much money has been wasted on buying this forgotten stuff.  Too many earth’s resources eradicated and redirected to creating this stuff.  Too many people injured by the unethical work conditions or pollution created so I can have more stuff.  And my children spent their weekend mostly absent from me and their dad because we had to deal with the stuff.  How ridiculous it all sounds when I write it out, but here I am in a truck with trailer attached trucking past America’s Main Street in middle states hauling stuff…junk…and then I think about the cool walls of the lodge, the dirt floors, the multiple families that would have lived, loved, and survived under its thatched skyline and I envy them.

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

When I was 16, I stayed on the Navajo reservation working and worshipping with this tribe.  They were then and are now few in number.  Separated, desolate, and  living in poverty under horribly harsh and unfair conditions.  These are not the Natives I envy–this scenario makes me angry, sad (but again I digress).  My admiration is for the ancestors of a people who took from the earth only what they needed, who worked as it was needed, who lived in a time of kinship and community ( and no I’m not completely deluded–it was far from perfect).  Life was real and imperfect, but it was not a residence like this Skype-d up alter-egoed FaceBook fairyland where modern man resides.  They were flesh who lived in the flesh.  I envy that while some groups did travel with their houses tied to dog or horse, they carried only what they needed.  They did not travel carrying a trailer full of junk wondering where to store it in an overburdened garage.  I envy that they some tribes thought beyond to the seventh-generation, and well I’m just praying we don’t pop a tire on this burgeoning trailer tonight…  Yes, I’m a minimalist–unfortunately my life hasn’t completely caught up with my heart…