Urban Adaptation

Sustainable urban living, rural dreams, and daily change for a homemade life.

Archive for the ‘Words’ Category

Grateful without

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A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.  – Henry David Thoreau

While I am always grateful for what I have, more and more these days I find myself being grateful for some of the things that I don’t have.  I know for some of the people I know that this is odd.  To be grateful for what you have isn’t all that exceptional, but to be grateful for the things you don’t have – other than, say, major health issues or a heavy mortgage – isn’t all that common in my experience.

I am grateful for not having a car, a washer and dryer, a dishwasher, or a cell phone.  I’m grateful that I don’t have the financial burden of paying for or maintaining them.  Although my hope is that this will change someday, I am grateful for not having a mortgage.  I’m also grateful that I have ways to get by without them.  That I can walk, or bike, or take the bus.  That I can wash clothes in the tub, or a sink, or a bucket.  That I actually rather like sudsy water and the act of making dirty dishes clean.  That I have a landline, a laptop, and easy wireless access.  That I have an apartment now and that someday, with any luck, I will have enough saved to get that mortgage.

I am grateful without these things, certainly – I have enough in my life, certainly, and so much that is better than a few appliances and techno-gadgetry. I’m grateful for family, for friends, for food, and for shelter (and, admittedly, I’m especially grateful this afternoon for books and a guitar).  I don’t need more than what I have, and not having these things does not diminish my life in any way, or detract from my gratitude for the things that I do have.

But I am also grateful that I do not have them, which seems to me a bit of a separate thing.  I’m grateful that I’ve learned to be without them, and that being without them is simply normal, even pleasurable sometimes, and not deprivation.  I’m grateful that I’ve learned that there alternatives to what so many people seem to accept as a given, if not some inalienable right granted by the gods of credit and debt.

There are moments when I whinge and moan, as most people do, I think.  Moments when the dishes and laundry are piled too high, the grocery stores seems thousands of miles away, and it would be easier to call home on a phone in my pocket rather than one across campus.  But these moments are the exceptions, and are far from the rule.

There’s more that I would like to cut out, I think.  More that I would like to be grateful about not having.  I hope to make some of these changes soon.  But for now, I’m grateful – grateful for what I have just as much as for what I don’t.  It’s a good feeling this gratitude, especially when it works more than one way.

Written by Jenn

April 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm

The revolution starts now

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I feel like this more and more all the time, and am seriously considering taking this as a theme song, of sorts.  I think the idea of taking revolutionary action now, where we are and with what we have available to us, is a particularly powerful one.

The Revolution Starts Now

I was walkin’ down the street
In the town where I was born
I was movin’ to a beat
That I’d never felt before
So I opened up my eyes
And I took a look around
I saw it written ‘cross the sky
The revolution starts now
Yeah, the revolution starts now

The revolution starts now
When you rise above your fear
And tear the walls around you down
The revolution starts here
Where you work and where you play
Where you lay your money down
What you do and what you say
The revolution starts now
Yeah the revolution starts now

Yeah the revolution starts now
In your own backyard
In your own hometown
So what you doin’ standin’ around?
Just follow your heart
The revolution starts now

Last night I had a dream
That the world had turned around
And all our hopes had come to be
And the people gathered ‘round
They all brought what they could bring
And nobody went without
And I learned a song to sing
The revolution starts now.

Lyrics by Steve Earle.

Written by Jenn

April 5, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Posted in Music, Words

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“We must not only become reliable, progressive, skillful and intelligent, but we must keep the idea constantly before our youths that all forms of labor, whether with the hand or head, are honorable.”

Booker T. Washington


After a long discussion with The Boy over lunch today that covered everything from how different types of labour are valued through to anti-intellectualism, I was glad to stumble across this quote, first because I think it can be an easy thing to forget, especially in this modern society, and second because it’s  a solid reminder of the fact that I need to better incorporate different forms of labour in my own life.

I’m an academic.  I spend a whole lot of time in my head reading, writing, and thinking. I certainly think there’s value here in thinking about the world and asking questions about different elements of culture and society.  There’s also value in teaching about it, and helping students to develop critical thinking skills so that they can better engage with their world.

There’s equal value in other forms of labour too, though.  Over the last few years I’ve found that I’m increasingly dissatisfied with living life mostly in my head, wrapped safely in the spires of the so-called Ivory Tower. And so, I’ve looked for other ways that I can engage in labour, even when they’re relatively small compared to the academic side of my life.  And I’ve found, happily, that ensuring that academic life is coupled with more tangible forms of labour makes for a great deal more balance in my life, and also what feels to be more productivity.

Carrying heavy loads from rice to soil home, planting seedlings, hanging laundry, and digging in the yard are all forms of labour. I find they help to ground me, remind me of the basis of daily life, and to not get too caught up in my head or my work.  I’m also aware that they’re productive in very different ways.  Hauling, planting, and digging are all productive in very concrete ways – I wind up with more materials at home, and more things growing outside.  In academic work, at most I wind up with a conference presentation or a journal article, which are material only because they’re sometimes (only sometimes) printed on paper.  While both can be satisfying in their own ways, there’s certainly something to be said for the value in seeing the real, material results of labour.

These are by no means the total basics of everyday life – to provide completely for myself would require labour that I doubt I can even begin to fathom, and that I imagine would take me away from most if not all of my academic endeavours.  I also realise that I am in a privileged position – I get to work at a job that I enjoy, and only take on other aspects of labour by choice, based on what I want to do and not on what is necessary for my survival.  But these small acts, a movement towards forms of labour other than the immaterial, the digital, and the ephemeral, help to ensure that I don’t get too lost in my head for too long, and bring me back to everyday life in a way that becomes more valuable and necessary all the time, both for practical and more personal reasons.



Written by Jenn

April 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm


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“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Written by Jenn

March 27, 2011 at 9:52 am

Posted in Words

Small art and love and beauty

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As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead

Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread.

Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.

Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.

I was plotting out this post in my head last night, after a week that had a few less-than-pleasant days in it.  And then, lo and behold, I ran across this post earlier today.

As I work on being more sustainable, I sometimes finding myself treading into territory where things feel less than pleasant.  Now, everything shouldn’t necessarily be rainbows and ponies all the time, but in many of these cases, these issues are my own doing – I’ve taken on too much, expected more of myself than I’ve had to give, or cut back too much in some area or another, leaving me feel stressed out, off kilter, and generally like I’d be inclined towards headbutting something.

It’s easy, as I move towards making the life that I want, to take on things too quickly, especially when I still have a whole set of responsibilities already that require tending.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to jump in feet first, but trying to deal with everything all at once right off the bat is a recipe for burning out, which in turn makes things that should (and usually do) feel like warm summer sun on your back seem more like being out in the midst of a raging hailstorm, ducking for cover.

So one thing I’m doing the weekend – other than resting – is thinking about some of the ways that I can make life not only a bit easier, but also a bit more beautiful, and less like drudgery on those days when almost everything feels like a shore.  The post from above has some really excellent advice.  Right now, I’m pondering the clutter with new eyes, considering how to make things a bit more beautiful around here, and trying to wrap my head around the idea that perhaps it’s okay, now and again, to pay a bit more money for things if they improve my life in some way.

For those who haven’t heard it, the verse above is from a folk song called “Bread and Roses”.  It’s not long, and if you don’t know it, I’d suggest seeking it.  It does a wonderful job of both getting at social justice issues, but also of pointing out that life is more than just work, and that there needs to be beauty there as well.

Something to think about this afternoon.

Written by Jenn

February 13, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Personal stuff, Words


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Worstward Ho, Samuel Beckett (1983)

All of old.

Nothing else ever.

Ever tried.

Ever failed.

No matter.

Try again.

Fail again.

Fail better.

I have all but the first two lines of this framed on my wall.  I think it’s a good reminder.  Every day, I try to fail better.

Written by Jenn

January 10, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Posted in Words

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