24 August 2011

So that was a new experience.

Tuesdays and Fridays you'll find me at Panera, working diligently on my research from about 6:30/7 to 2; I'm in the back corner by the outlet, poring over Understanding Media and nursing my cup of hazelnut coffee. That's not the new experience--it's my routine. But this afternoon we had an earthquake, our first since 1897 (!). I just thought the guy sitting behind me was shifting and accidentally bumping my chair. When he kept bumping my chair, however, I finally turned around to see if I was in his way or something and felt discombobulated to see him placidly working out of range. Too much coffee, I guess--I could have sworn my chair was moving. No one else looked concerned.

It wasn't until I overheard one lady's conversation that my ears pricked. "...I mean it was shaking," she exclaimed. "I was just sitting in my car, eating chicken, and it was literally shaking...mmhmm...5.8 they're saying..."


So of course, that's all any of us along the East Coast are talking about as we prepare for Hurricane Irene.

22 August 2011

As I continue to research, I'm re-reading bits from one of my favorite books and re-discovered this passage in which Postman discusses Lewis Mumford's conception of the clock:
"The clock," Mumford has concluded, "is a piece of power machinery whose 'product' is seconds and minutes." In manufacturing such a product, the clock has the effect of disassociating time from human events and thus nourishes the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences. Moment to moment, it turns out, is not God's conception, or nature's. It is man conversing with himself about and through a piece of machinery he created.
In Mumford's great book Technics and Civilization, he shows how, beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers. In the process, we have learned irreverence toward the sun and the seasons, for in a world made up of seconds and minutes, the authority of nature is superseded. Indeed, as Mumford points out, with the invention of the clock, Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events. And thus, though few would have imagined the connection, the inexorable ticking of the clock may have had more to do with the weakening of God's supremacy than all the treatises produced by the philosophers of the Enlightenment; that is to say, the clock introduced a new form of conversation between man and God, in which God appears to have been the loser.
excerpt from Postman, N. (1984). Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin Books. (p. 11-12).

A Meditation on Labor

12 August 2011

"The contribution that science can make to labor is to render it easier by the help of a tool or a process, and to assure the laborer of his perfect economic security while he is engaged upon it. Then it can be performed with leisure and enjoyment. But the modern laborer has not exactly received this benefit under the industrial regime. His labor is hard, its tempo is fierce, and his employment is insecure. The first principle of a good labor is that is must be effective, but the second principle is that it must be enjoyed. Labor is one of the largest items in the human career; it is a modest demand to ask that it may partake of happiness.

"The regular act of applied science is to introduce into labor a labor-saving device or a machine. Whether this is a benefit depends on how far it is advisable to save the labor. The philosophy of applied science is generally quite sure that the saving of labor is a pure gain, and that the more of it the better. This is to assume that labor is an evil, that only the end of labor or the material product is good. On this assumption labor becomes mercenary and servile, and it is no wonder if many forms of modern labor are accepted without resentment though they are evidently brutalizing. The act of labor as one of the happy functions of human life has been in effect abandoned, and is practiced solely for its rewards."

~an excerpt from I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, pp. xl-xli.

Learning the Fundamentals

08 August 2011

A few days ago I came across this Huffington Post article entitled "Why are Young, Educated Americans Going Back to the Farm?" (found via ColdAntlerFarm). My great-grandmother witnessed the beginning of the transition from farm to city, so it's interesting to witness some reversal only a few generations later. I especially resonated with Kelly Coffman's quote:
"When you have [a liberal arts] education, you get to a point where you realize wait, I need to have a more basic fundamental education about being human. Food, water, shelter...these things are important."
Returning to the basics is a quest I began several years ago--in fact, it's one of the main reasons I went Wwoofing, and it's why I enjoy making as many necessities as I can, starting as close to "from scratch" as I can. The kitchen is one area I've mentioned before, what with my bread, granola, etc; clothing is another. In a way, even refurbishing secondhand furniture is my way of understanding the items I live with at their most basic level, for nothing has taught me more about the materials and construction of an upholstered chair than doing it myself (and one of these days, I'll actually finish it!*). I haven't bought shampoo or conditioner in years, opting instead to use a baking soda rinse to clean my hair and an apple-cider vinegar rinse to condition it. And on that note, I also make my own foundation, although that is not a necessity. I am even nearly finished gathering the supplies I need to make my own shoes (Andrew Wrigley has a great series on making semi-brogues here).

These little acts are nothing groundbreaking--well, my shoe-making aspirations raise some eyebrows--and they may not hold much significance to anyone but myself. I still use quite a few things I don't understand--like my computer, the Internet, electricity, my car, not to mention the "scratch" ingredients like baking soda, cotton fabric, zinc oxide. There are a few drawbacks to this sort of "fundamental education," too. Time is the major factor, and money can be another. Although I end up saving quite a bit, some of these projects require an initial investment in supplies, and that is an investment I may not be able to make at the time. That is why I am thankful for responsibly formulated products like Desert Essence's deodorant or Trader Joe's multipurpose cleaner. And these little acts don't arise out of any sort of activism--I consider them more thoughtful and cheap than "green." But they do mark my determination to understand more about the things I depend upon, more about the processes city-life tends to occlude in favor of the products.

*this is the major drawback to getting back to the basics: the time it takes to complete these projects

P.S. Agrarian and Neo-Agrarian thinkers articulate the reasons behind this return to the fundamentals beautifully. I recommend I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition and The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.

This Week I...

06 August 2011

  • sewed a dress and a fitted shell using my bodice sloper
  • was treated to a farewell lunch at the Carolina Inn by my dear coworkers at the SHC; I'm going to miss these folks and my work there very very much
  • started work on a Stagville exhibit at the SHC
  • visited Historic Stagville in Durham
  • found Make This Look via a comment on Sew Retro; figuring out how to replicate clothing I see in stores is one of my favorite parts about sewing, and many lovely styles are represented on this section of Sew Weekly
  • popped up to Virginia to celebrate Dad's birthday
And here are some lovely posts from around the Web:

A Visit to Stagville

05 August 2011

The SHC has been collaborating with Historic Stagville, and the final project in my practicum is creating an exhibit on some of the enslaved families. On Monday my research brought me down the stairs to the North Carolina Collection in search of source citations, but on Thursday I decided to break from the books and visit the plantation itself.

The hour-long tour takes visitors to the Bennehan house, the enslaved quarters at Horton Grove, and the great barn, all of which are described briefly here. While the Bennehan home was interesting, Horton Grove impressed me with the tangible reminders of slavery. Along the chimney, you can see actual handprints of the enslaved builders who shaped and stacked the bricks. One brick even bears the faint footprint of a child who must have stepped or fallen upon it before it was quite dry. Hart House, too, retains connections to its enslaved past with the Hart family (one of the families I am researching, in fact). As sharecroppers and blacksmiths after emancipation, the Harts were able to buy the house eventually and resided there as late as the 1950s. There are some living in town today who can say they were born in [formerly] enslaved quarters.

If you'd like to peek into Historic Stagville virtually, head here.

Wwoofing Adventures #6

03 August 2011

6 o'clock buzzed in much too soon, but we had to shower, pack, check out, and get to Westminster Abbey by 8. On our bus ride home the night before, Meagan had declared her resolve to attend Holy Communion--a resolve that met with cranky protestations on my part. Nevertheless, we boarded the very empty Docklands Light Railway early that morning, backpacks in tow, ready enough to commence our last half-day in London. LeeAnn departed mid-route for Westminster Cathedral's morning mass, while Meagan and I continued on. Perhaps it was my tiredness--afterall, an introvert who has been enjoying new experiences in a bustling city will get socially, emotionally, and physically tired--but the day was beginning to take on a surreal cast, my present activities dislimned by my anticipation of the coming night when the three of us would embark upon our first Wwoofing adventure. I'd never worked on a farm--rarely even in a garden, never concerned myself with organic practices nor the environment, never stayed with a host-family. Would this be the beginning of something new, the time I could point to later on and say "there the course of my life changed"?

Holy Communion was the best way to experience the Abbey, far better than the cattle-prodded shuffle of paid admission. The greeters did not even seem to mind the backpacks we stuffed dutifully beneath our seats. The service soon over, Meagan and I trekked to Westminster Cathedral, reunited with LeeAnn, and made our circuitous way to Victoria Station. In between settling the finer points of our evening's journey to Kent, I took the opportunity to nab a cup of coffee that provided little of the wanted effect.

The details in order, our departure time duly noted, we set out for Portobello Market for a few hours of browsing. The alarming cost to check our bags at the station dissuaded us from doing the sensible thing and from then on every few steps nagged me with regrets as I hoisted my bag to a less aching position. We finally found Portobello Market (are you sensing a theme with all these "finally found"s?) and, after bumping through crowds and stalls stocked with tea cups and antique watches and faded books, we discovered a stall selling scarves at a reasonable price. Each of us bought a beautiful pashmina and correctly predicted that "we'll be loving them all summer."

The train was a blessed respite from the bustle of London and of the past few days. It was our moment to sit for an hour or so in the relative quiet of the car while anticipating our next adventure. What would our host be like? Would we acclimate? Would we realize that this whole trip was terribly misguided and so dread our remaining weeks on other farms?

Excitement, curiosity, and anxiety mingled in my thoughts as we pulled in to the station.

01 August 2011

Goodness gracious it's August already.

As I gear up for my move, submit my IRB application, finish my practicum at the SHC, and play host to my lovely sister, expect posting to be slower/shorter than normal for the next few weeks.

On another note, others are still going strong in the blogging realm. Joanna of Cup of Jo posted a thoughtful examination of how we talk to little girls. Read it here.