Category Archives: Cultural Studies

Six Years and Slowing

On the "skiddah"

On the “skiddah”

It is March once again, and the anniversary month of this blog which started out as Outside the Box and is now Localista.

I don’t look too fashionable there on the skidder, but let me tell you, I was THRILLED to have a chance to get into the driver’s seat, turn the ignition key, and roll slowly backward, oops! I was maybe in the thing for a minute and a half before I stalled it. Heavy equipment operator is not going to be my next career.

What I did learn from this experience was 1)guys who work in the woods are great storytellers and hard workers and all-around great people and 2)enough about operating a skidder to finish a writing project.

Harvesting in the Maine woods has long been an economic driver for our state, providing jobs and a marketable resource. It is a local sort of job, and even with improvements in equipment, still requires a human brain. Unlike other jobs which are being outsourced to…robots. Check out this article, “Your Job May Soon Be Obsolete Thanks To Robots,”  on AGBeat from the American Genius Network.

Yes, computers are now writing news articles. Egads! Soon they will be writing books, I suppose, cranking them out from synopses and outlines, or maybe just picking and choosing from scenarios, character lists, and possible turning points from specialized plot and narrative computer programs. I’m typing this and thinking, “It’s probably already been done, but I don’t want to go look. I’m scairt!”

So, I’m still doing the localism thing as much as possible, have incorporated it into my life with room left for improvement, as always. Those hiking boots in the photo up there? Got ’em at Reny’s, one of Maine’s independent stores. It was the only size of its kind on the shelves, the only pair of boots in my size, and they fit perfectly. In fact, they were so comfortable with a pair of wool hiking socks I also picked up, I didn’t unlace them all day. The support felt fantastic!

Today I’m wearing a combination outfit–a sweater from Goodwill, a scarf that was a gift, and a pair of pants I bought full-price at Chico’s at the mall. I ate breakfast at a local restaurant, but then I got a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. It’s not about perfection. It’s about awareness and small changes and doing the best you can.

Six years later, I’m slowing down but trudging along, one step at a time.

Social Media as Magic Mirror

mirrormirrorI’ve been thinking so much about the whole social media universe lately. My thoughts are not all sweetness and light. In fact, I’m feeling pretty dark about social media these days. I think it is due for a shakeup!

Here is an example. Have you visited Wattpad.com? I just heard about it a couple weeks ago and decided to check it out. Wattpad is a platform that allows you to post your book or short story or other pieces of writing (read: fan fiction) from your profile. You can follow other writers. You can collect a library. You can create a reading list. It’s pretty cool. It’s also pretty young. In fact, Wattpad.com seems to be a huge collective of many, many young (ages 14-22 I’m guessing) writers, kids who are used to a dynamic of “following” and “following back” that is akin to a smile–something polite and nice to do to make the other person and yourself feel good, but not an actual indication that he or she is actually going to read your work.

Because, how many writers(bloggers/Tweeters/Instagramers/Pinners, etc.) can one person actually read/follow/interact with? Certainly not 700…or even 350 or 200!

I think it is the same with all social media, including Facebook and Instagram and the like. People may “like” you or “follow” you, but it MAY be only a feel-good,reciprocal thing with no real intention of visiting again, or a politeness thing, or maybe even a way of trying to entice you to visit their account in hopes they get one more tick on the counter. Or, less cynically, maybe they stumbled onto your account and liked what they saw enough to give you a “like” or a “follow,” but your posts then become so lost in the avalanche of notifications piling onto the erstwhile follower’s in-box or notification tab that he/she never stumbles back onto your page again.

In this way, your follower number on your social media account(s) becomes nothing more than a meaningless numeral, or at best a tally of notches on your belt. Certainly it is not an indicator of real readership.

I’m told (by young people) that this doesn’t bother them at all. This meaningless number is fine in a world of people who are interested only in self-expression. For them, social media is a magic mirror. The larger the number, the bigger the mirror, but it is still reflecting back only one image. The Self.

I post, therefore I am?

But what about actual communication/community? What about the real spread of ideas?

I’m wondering if the only way this will be sustainable will be people coming together (the way planets formed after the big bang) to create their own worlds within worlds, so to speak. Social circles. We’ve seen the big bang, the social media explosion. It has happened.

Perhaps now people will combine naturally into their smaller social media circles–communicating with each other, reading each other’s posts, commenting, adding to collective knowledge so that an individual piece becomes more of a springboard or topic sentence for the larger “work.” A collective piece of art. If this is how things end up, a blogger with 10,000 followers could not be considered more successful than one with 1000. In fact the one with 100 might be considered MORE successful, especially if those 100 actually read and comment on the work and vice versa. In fact, 100 might be too many.

How many blog posts do YOU read in one day? How many do you comment on? And do you read the comments of other followers?

I predict there will be a weeding out frenzy soon as we come to realize we are all just hanging our posts/work on a wall and gazing into the mirror 99% of the time. Or maybe I’m just getting too cynical.

And to that end, I’m going to do some housekeeping. It is time to officially pare down my “following” and “friends” and “likes” lists. If I’m not really and truly interested in investing my time in a social media site, I’m going to delete it. Please do the same here. I won’t take it personally. In fact, I’ll applaud you.

And to my real, constant readers out there…thank you. I appreciate your taking the time to read and respond in the little time you have in your day for such activities.

Boomerang, Boomerang

flower and teen

So, the Millennials aren’t growing up.

As an aging Generation X-er, I feel concerned about the future of the Millennials. These young people–the generation coming of age behind us–are graduating from college and discovering their parents were wrong. Going to college does NOT guarantee you a really good, white-collar job in the field of your choice as soon as you graduate. Thanks to a stagnant economy, these young college graduates can’t earn enough to do the things adults do: pay back their loans, buy a house, start a family. Instead, they are struggling to find work, coming back home to live, and putting off babies indefinitely.

Millennials also grew up with lots of privileges and material goods, and they aren’t about to give those goodies up if they can help it. Can we blame them? They were brought up with cool clothes, video games, mobile devices, and lots of social activities like recreational soccer league and summer theater camps. Is it any wonder that they believe they should be able to have them after putting in the hard work of earning a college degree and doing everything else their parents told them would ensure their success?

Instead, they are faced with unpalatable choices. Pay for rent or pay for an unlimited data plan? One is a necessity to the Millennial…and it isn’t the apartment.

To add insult to injury, the Affordable Care Act is now forcing them to purchase health insurance they perhaps do not need in order to “make the numbers work.”

Behold: “If the ObamaCare health insurance exchanges are to function properly, it is crucial that a substantial number of people ages 18-34 join them. This age group that is young and relatively healthy must purchase health insurance on the exchanges in order to “cross-subsidize” people who are older and sicker. Without the young and healthy, the exchanges will enter a “death spiral” where only the older and sicker participate, and price of insurance premiums will increase precipitously, says David Hogberg, a health care policy analyst for the National Center for Public Policy Research.” (ObamaCare’s Success Is Dependent on Young Adults

So the poor and the aging are going to suck off the young and healthy like economic vampires. No wonder Twilight and The Vampire Diaries are so popular with this age group!

It should come as no shock(with the economy struggling and jobs still scarce and apartments still expensive and giving up technologies like iPhones unthinkable), Millennials are boomeranging back home once they finish college. See Adulthood Delayed by Derek Thompson, in the Atlantic Monthly, Feb. 14, 2012.

We Gen X parents are dismayed by this turn of events. Will we have our aging Boomer parents living in the guest rooms and our frustrated Millennial children living in our basements? We’ll do it if we have to–family is important to us. But egads! Can’t something be done?

It got me thinking. What if some smart landlords invested in creating “low-income housing” for 18-30 year-olds with a college degree? Sure, this demographic doesn’t make much money at their service-industry or entry-level jobs, but that doesn’t mean they have no intention of bettering themselves. They aren’t your typical “low-income housing” demographic, are they? They were brought up expecting to dress well, drive a decent car, hang out with other college-educated people, pay their bills, and vote on issues important to them. They want to grow up, have a good job, and be good parents.

They would probably be good tenants, especially if the complex offered free wifi.

The parking lot might be full of six-year-old Priuses (officially, I guess the plural is Prii. Puh-lease) passed down from Mom and Dad. There would have to be a coffee shop in house. Millennial tenants would be passably content, I imagine, to hang out in a cafe–socializing and networking while looking for professional-type jobs on their tablet computers and doing all the other stuff they like to do on their iPhones (texting, making videos, watching movies, reading magazines, checking Instagram and Twitter, etc.).They could grab a latte on their way to work at a)the mall b)temp agency c)restaurant d)support service for the disabled. A fitness center in the complex would provide them healthy exercise and socializing opportunities.

IMG_cafe

There should be bike storage and a bus stop. Perhaps the apartment complex should be placed in an area with some microbrewery pubs, good restaurants (for dining and for working in), a natural food store, and some consignment shops.

It would be like a college dorm–without the studying.

It would be Melrose Place for a new generation of young adults who happen to be on a really fixed budget.

Housing of this sort would give Millennials some time and a safe, comfortable space to figure out the next phase of their lives–well out of earshot of Mom and Dad who really love them AND truly are hoping their children can be the self-actualized individuals they raised them to be.

Our (guilty as hell to have helped create this poor state of affairs and I’m not just talking about the current administration which really inherited the problem) government could allow entrepreneurs to create these specialized housing units without all the red tape of “equal opportunity housing” rules that would derail such a project. There are plenty of traditional low-income housing spaces out there (and more could be built for the poor and uneducated among us), but they are not the places our college-educated, potentially upwardly mobile Millennials want to be or should be.

I’m not sure this has much to do with being a Localista except we all have these young people in our communities. I would like to see them move up, follow their life-plan, and reach full adulthood . . .

. . . somewhere other than in my basement.

My Evil Pellet Stove

1384553309325

Dear Reader:

I live in Maine, and in Maine the winters are cold. Correction, the late autumns, winters, and the biggest part of springs are cold. In order to survive, humans who live in Maine need a source of warmth in order to thrive. So it has been, I believe, ever since the first people took up residence in our fair state.

Over the past five years, I have explored various issues pertaining to sustainability, localism, and culture. I was inspired, first of all, by the notion of “Peak Oil” which is really “Peak Energy” or–to be more colloquial–“When the Juice Runs Out.” I read about the End of Suburbia and the Geography of Nowhere and about how we need to Powerdown.

Throughout the book reading and eco-film watching, I heard much about weaning off oil and using, instead, renewable energy. Things like wood, geothermal, and solar were touted as better options. I was cool with that.

I grew up with a wood stove. I am fond of that dry, heatier-somehow kind of warmth that is thrown out by a wood stove compared to a forced hot-air furnace. Plus, you know, it is traditional, and I like traditional.

It took a few years to make the switch, but eventually hubby and I decided on a pellet stove. We bought one last fall, used it all winter, and were pleased. We rarely filled the oil tank (for the hot water heater; replacing that is a future consideration), and I was warmer than I’d been in many years since I had taken to reducing the thermostat down to 60 degrees–way too cold for me to be comfortable, even with a sweater and knit hat. I was thrilled that the pellets were made out of a local resource–wood from Maine or neighboring Canada–and would burn more efficiently and cleanly than a traditional wood stove. Yay! We were doing our part for the environment!

Or so I thought.

Today I learned of an article expressing shock and dismay that some major corporations are–gasp!–producing pellets, shipping them overseas, and making a profit! I went in search of the article and think this might be it. OUTRAGEOUS: U.S. Forests Logged, Pelletized, Shipped Overseas in the Name of Renewable Energy. (from EcoWatch.com)

It does seem rather appalling.

Sigh.

I get it. Trees are beautiful. They are a wonderful resource, and we should manage them with care. Burning them throws carbon into the air. But wasn’t the whole idea of switching to “renewables” dependent on, um, actually USING the renewables? And what other choices do we have? Solar? What about those solar panels? What are they made of? What kind of energy is used to manufacture and transport them? What about batteries and storage of energy for when you need it? And if we all switch, will we then be told by the likes of EcoWatch that we are evil for supporting a corporation that is profiting from the production and sale of the technology?

I’m not saying “going solar” is wrong or in any way a poor choice. I would love, love, love to see our communities transition to using solar, but please don’t act as if 1)sustainability advocates are blameless in this burgeoning market for wood pellets and 2)there is no environmental cost to ramping up solar energy solutions.

Human beings use resources and make an impact on the environment. Period. Perhaps the only way we can TRULY reduce our impact is to stop making more humans to warm, feed, clothe, inoculate, and hydrate.

In other words, don’t throw out your pellet stoves. Instead, buy some birth control. Or just say NO to sex. (WARNING: CRUDENESS ALERT! 31 Ways to Say No To Sex)

Whatever works best for you.

ps: Just watching the national news and learned that China is lifting their “one child only” rule. And so it goes and goes and goes…

Darn Good Yarn: A Growing Micro-Business

Dear Reader:

In discussing things like individual freedom and sustainability, sometimes there seems to be a disconnect in people’s minds, as if using the word “sustainable” is a sort of code word for “socialism.” Frankly, that confuses me.

Handmade socks

Handmade socks

In fact, why can’t a business be both sustainable–eco-friendly even–and still be a capitalist enterprise? Is Individualist Sustainability Entrepreneur necessarily an oxymoron?

Because this has been at the forefront of my mind, I was thrilled to come across an article about a Maine company called Darn Good Yarn. The owner, Nicole Snowe, had an idea to create a micro-business out of her home, a company that uses recycled waste silk from India and Nepal to create one-of-a-kind yarns. Darn Good Yarn was born. And it is thriving.

According to the company website, the workers Darn Good Yarn employs receive a wage that “not only allows them to survive, but to thrive.” At the same time, the company is growing. This is not a charitable enterprise but a micro-business with a profit-earning motive. I say BRAVO!

Ms. Snowe exemplifies for me that ideal Individualist Sustainability Entrepreneur I imagined–someone with ethical business practices, entrepreneurial spirit and drive for success, and awareness of sustainability issues I believe will weigh more and more heavily in our hearts and in our marketplace. Darn Good Yarn is a darn good example of how things can be done.

Read the Bangor Daily News Disruptive Growth Blog article “Through the Eyes of the Entrepreneur: Nicole Snowe, CEO of Darn Good Yarn” here. http://disruptivegrowth.bangordailynews.com/2013/09/08/through-the-eyes-of-the-entrepreneur-nicole-snow-ceo-of-darn-good-yarn/

Get Bent, Ayn Rand, or How Sharknado Saved My Sanity

Note from Localista: The best part of social media, including blogging, is for me the exchange of ideas. Here is a counterpoint to my ATLAS SHRUGGED blog post. Kirstie is a funny and astute writer. Enjoy!

Copy-cat Highlighting on Kindle

A Flamingo Shade of Grey

A Flamingo Shade of Grey

Dear Reader:

Just going to write a quick post about a certain human behavior I found myself noticing while reading books and articles on a Kindle. You know how you are skimming along on your electronic device, your mind filling with images and ideas, caught up in a story-line or argument, and all of a sudden there is a dotted, lighter-gray line underscoring a particular sentence or paragraph?

Well, this line indicates a “highlight.” Not YOUR highlight. Someone else’s highlight. And all the copy-cats who followed suit. Somehow Kindle keeps track of these highlights and reports directly to each reader a helpful note telling her just how many fellow-readers have highlighted that particular sentence, phrase, or paragraph.

Now here’s my question: Why do so many people end up highlighting the very same phrases? Is it because these thoughts are so obviously important that everyone decides, on their own initiative, to highlight them? Or do many people highlight a passage simply because OTHER people have already highlighted it? I suspect the latter answer falls closer to the truth, and it is just another weird indication of the sheeple-like behavior of most humans.

Memes–an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person through a culture–have always been an aspect of being human. We used to spread ideas via storytelling and then via letters and books and magazines and newspapers. Even as we moved to the written story versus the oral, we were still able to experience the story in our own private heads, think our own private thoughts, and draw our own private conclusions about what we thought was important. Maybe we’d talk about what we read. Maybe we’d jot a private note in the margin. Maybe we’d share that book with a friend who happened upon those margin notes. But did that person underline your underline in his own pen and then pass it along to yet another friend who underlined it in her pen and so forth? Um, no.

What we are talking about here goes so far beyond your college roommate’s yellow highlighter in last semester’s American Literature textbook that you bought from her because you’d like not to spend $500 on something that will be obsolete by spring semester the following year. Now that we have technologies that allow us to share everything with everyone electronically, so that even the once-private reading experience has become hive-like, herd-like, the question arises once again. Are we people, or are we sheeple?

This morning, for example, I began reading short story by Jennifer Weiner entitled Swim. It’s a good short story, well-crafted, interesting characters, great internal conflict. I’m reading along, minding my own mind when, POW! A phrase with 68 (not much compared to some books I’ve read, but I’ll get to that) highlights. This must be a rip-roaring great sentence, I thought.

So I read it.

“…making my heart beat like a little girl who’s gotten just what she wanted for her birthday.”

I blinked. Really? Sixty-eight people thought that phrase was highlight-worthy on their own initiative? I growled at my Kindle and startled the dog. “No stinkin’ way!”

Here’s what I think happened. One person highlighted it, someone else saw someone highlighted it and so highlighted it as well, and then a third followed, then a fourth, and then twenty. I actually found myself compelled to drag my finger across the words and click “highlight” in the pop-up box myself, as if some weird internal synoptic hard-wiring connected a vestigial sheeple-lobe in my brain to my right index finger with nary a stop in the actual thought-processing centers in the frontal lobes.

And then I DID highlight it, just to see if the number of highlighters changed from 68 to 69. It has now. Experiment complete. Let’s see if I can un-highlight it. Yup. Just drag finger and hit delete. Voila!

Have I highlighted other books and articles I’ve read in Kindle? Yes, particularly for non-fiction stuff I want to go back and read again or wish to quote. These are my own highlights, though, irrespective of whether or not anyone else got a tingle of “aha!” while reading the passage. Do I hope other people see my highlights and chose to highlight it, too? Should I go back and look and see what kind of influence I’ve made in the world with my fancy-smancy highlighting skills? Shudder. That the thought even occurred to me sets off warning lights and danger sirens.

This is all beginning to feel a little bit too much like Facebook and how some people actually analyze how many “likes” their friends get on posted photos and shares–as if that is some indication of that person’s popularity or likeableness or something. Not to mention Klout–social media that calculates your influence on the social-media culture. I signed up for that for about a week, just to see what it was all about. Then I got outa’ there. What, exactly, was the point?

(This post is turning out to be anything but “quick.” Sorry about that! I didn’t realize I had this much to say on the topic, which is kinda part of the fun of writing, isn’t it? It’s a new discovery each and every time.)

But back to the egregious example of copy-cat highlighting. After resisting for as long as I could, I gave in and bought Fifty Shades of Grey on Kindle. I really didn’t think it would be any good, and it wasn’t great. However, I readily admit that I was curious about why this erotic novel sold so spectacularly well, spawned a slew of copy-cat novels, re-invented a genre which now fills entire shelf-displays in bookstores, and has even been picked up for a movie adaptation. Pretty good stuff for the author, I have to admit. She must have done something right. I wanted to see if I could find out how she did it.

So, yes, the writing was pedestrian, the sex scenes were so-so and there were way too many of them for my taste, and now I have my own theory about why women like this book (which I may or may not share in a later post), but there was one aspect of reading this on Kindle that really amused me. I knew the story wasn’t exactly gripping my attention (no matter WHERE Christian Grey was gripping Anastasia at the particular moment) when I began paying more attention to the highlighting.

“My belief is to achieve success in any scheme one has to make oneself master of that scheme, know it inside and out, know every detail…” 1,761 people thought this was highlight-worthy.

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” 3,962 highlights.

“A man who acquires the ability to take full possession of his own mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled.” 8,586 highlights, and who am I reading? E.L. James or Ayn Rand?see Reading Atlas Shrugged in my 40’s

“Oh, f___ the paperwork, he growls. He lunges at me, pushing me against the wall of the elevator.” 2,349.

And so on. The funniest thing is that there is never just a highlight with 50 highlighters or 10. Just thousands. Does Kindle only report the top-scoring highlights of each book or article? Yes. “We combine the highlights of all Kindle customers and identify the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers to focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people. We show only passages where the highlights of at least three distinct customers overlap, and we do not show which customers made those highlights.” (http://gigaom.com/2010/05/03/amazon-starts-sharing-what-youve-highlighted-on-your-kindle/)

I’m so glad to know that two-thousand people thought Christian pushing Anastasia against the wall of an elevator was wicked important, aren’t you?

What Amazon doesn’t address is why. Why so many people highlight particular passages. Is it based on true personal preference or is there a copy-cat quality?

I will continue to watch with great interest the highlighting trends in Kindle editions. I’m wondering how this feature could be used and abused–both from sharing information about what certain kinds of readers highlight and also from influencing what readers think is important by artificially amping up the supposed highlights (hello: pay or otherwise ask 100 readers to highlight a certain passage thus causing more people to pay attention to certain ideas and to also copy-cat and highlight that passage than would happen organically.)

What do you all think?

Localista At Large: Shopping, shopping, and more shopping!

At San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art

Dear Reader:

I have now spent many hours trolling through gift shops and wandering in that aimless touristy way that is at once relaxing and exhausting in equal measure. The Teen and I managed the public transportation options yesterday, starting out with the MTS express bus, the 150, from just across the street in La Jolla down to Old Town. There, we procured a couple of Compass passes from a vending machine at the trolley station–three-day passes that would allow us unlimited bus and trolley rides until Wednesday.

Picture the trolley/bus station at Old Town. Two sets of tracks divided by concrete walkways and covered benches. A few bus lanes dotted with more benches with signage listing the various routes going north and south. An underground passageway between the bus and trolley lines–the walls of said passageway artfully decorated with red roof tiles and large stones in wavy shapes.

The trolley are like above-ground subway trains– bright, shiny red on the outside and very clean inside. Finding the right trolley and getting Downtown was no problem yesterday. Soon we were deposited a block or so from our destination, Seaport Village, a recreated seaport development of small shops and restaurants along the waterfront, not far from the giant ship museums and the Fish Market Restaurant.

We ended our day at the Kansas City BBQ where the bar scene from TOP GUN was filmed. This very casual rib joint was laid-back with checkered plastic tablecloths, styrofoam cups for our sodas, and really hot and salty fries. We didn’t order any ribs, but the smell was spicy and sweet wafting from the table behind us. In the bar area, people sat in close quarters at the worn bar over which hung Navy caps–I’m assuming they were donated by military customers over the years. Signed photos on the wall included Richard Dean Anderson and Brooke Shields and a bunch of athletes I didn’t bother to look at. Sorry sports fans.

Today, we intended to go to Balboa Park for some art & culture, but the thought of navigating the MTS again just made me feel tired before we even started. We opted for another foray into La Jolla Village where we did spend a good hour and a half at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art before shopping, refueling at the Brick & Bell Cafe, more shopping, and meeting Hubby down at the cove where the sea lions were diving and flapping and honking beneath a cloudy afternoon sky.

Dinner at the hotel “social hour” ended our day as we couldn’t seem to muster up any enthusiasm for dinner out. Early to bed. Sea World, hopefully, tomorrow.

So, here are the highlights from our last couple of days.

Hotel Suite Kitchen

Hotel Suite Kitchen

Our hotel suite kitchen where I’ve composed some good, fresh salads as well as pasta and even garlic bread. Avocado with everything!

Seaport Village Flag

Seaport Village Flag

Seaport Village: a cute shopping area, waterfront district.

Kites over the waterfront

Kites over the waterfront

Watching the kites flying over the waterfront park at Seaport Village was relaxing…and chilly!

Wax Candle Artist

Wax Candle Artist

Balls of wax are dipped into colored wax and become beautiful, one-of-a-kind works of art. We had fun testing out many of the wax balls beneath the handy spotlights before choosing a few to bring home. The artist was very friendly and agreed to pose for us after explaining her process. Can you see the colored wax buckets beside her?

Top Gun Hats

Top Gun Hats

Here are the hats hanging over the bar at Kansas City BBQ. Remember Tom Cruise singing “She’s lost that loving feeling?” Here’s where it happened.

Art meets sci-fi

Art meets sci-fi

At the Museum of Contemporary Art, the main exhibit featured art inspired by science fiction. This one was based on a mythological sci-fi story about slaves dumped overboard in the Great Lakes who created a lost world beneath the water. Note the eyeballs beneath the waves. Cool, I say. Sketchy, says the Teen.

Flower People

Flower People

Another artist created a world where people were able to genetically combine with plants. These are the flower people of her imagination.

Echoes Too

Echoes Too

Walking down the street with no particular destination in mind, imagine my delight when I spotted–tadaa–a resale clothing store in ritzy La Jolla Village! Echoes Too Resale Shop carried some pretty impressive name brands. I especially liked a slinky black jersey Calvin Klein cocktail dress and a nice white cotton shirt. However, I didn’t feel like trying on clothes. It was enough to have found the shop and snap a photo, I guess, for this Localista.

IMG_cafe

The Teen and I spotted the Brick & Bell Cafe from across the street and zipped right over. It sits on a quiet back street across from a shoe repair shop and dry cleaners…and a few locals were hanging out at the outside cafe tables and reading and chatting and greeting each other. We split a chocolate chip scone and drank cappucinos. It felt like Europe to me, somehow. Must’ve been a certain vibe. That and all the languages we heard on the street. La Jolla draws people from all over the world. I’ve heard snippets of French and strands of Italian, watched people of all shapes and sizes and ages and colors brushing past each other in and out of shops and restaurants. There is nothing like getting out of small-town rural Maine and into a large, metropolitan city to wake up one’s interest in culture and cultures!

Rethinking Education…Again

antique cars for history class

Students learned about the early 20th century by exploring antique cars at Massabesic High School in Waterboro, Maine this spring.

Here’s what I was talking about with the Teen this morning.

What if we gathered together a bunch of high school students interested in studying literature/writing/journalism and planned an entire education program from there? We would start with that passion and incorporate all the disciplines. For instance…

Literature: We could read and write various genres and analyze their conventions.

History: We could write historical fiction–and do the historical research necessary.

Math: We could talk about the biz of publishing, learn accounting, statistics, and maybe create some marketing or distribution algorithms. I’m unclear about algorithms but this sorta explains my idea http://adage.com/article/dataworks/algorithms-marketers/239460/.

Economics: Maybe we would create a “virtual” magazine and learn the ins and outs of publishing, sorta like those classes where students trade stocks, with all the learning implied in that kind of endeavor.

Social sciences: We could study sociology and psychology and philosophy to inform ourselves about character development and conflicts.

Science: We could do some nature writing/science reading and writing and learn about those subjects and/or incorporate what we learn into fiction. We could visit a lab and interview scientists (or better yet, go down to the science-learner wing or school and interview students in their lab).

Art: We could write about art and artists. We could look at paintings and sculptures for inspiration for new stories. We could practice art as a way of accessing different parts of our brain, stimulating creativity.

Health & Fitness: We could do some yoga and walking/running or any other form of exercise because authors need to get up and move to stay healthy and their minds working properly.

Industrial Arts: We could build bookshelves or maybe personalized writing desks.

Music: We could write music lyrics and learn some music theory while we are at it. Of course we could also participate in chorus or band.

Now….if I were interested in say, science, how could I create a similar program for the science-learners?

Math & Science charter schools are already creating this kind of learning environment…so why shouldn’t we create schools geared toward artists? Or philosophers? Or writers? Or athletes? (Actually, there is a school for skiers up at Sugarloaf called Carrabassett Valley Academy.)

What if we truly started with students’ interests and built programs around them? Video gaming? GREAT! Website design? Fabulous! Auto mechanics? No problem! Agriculture? Be still my heart.

For those kids who want to be college professors, academics, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc, then a traditional liberal arts education might just be what they need. Fine! Create a classical academy school for them.

The point is, different learners have different interests, so why shouldn’t we have different schools or classroom clusters for them? This is not a new idea. Some high schools have created schools within a school similar to colleges within universities or majors within colleges.

What is the point of education, after all, but learning what you need to actually DO something? If you were a student again, wouldn’t this sound like fun?

Homeschool advocates already understand all this. Homeschooling is the ultimate individualized learning program.

Charter schools geared toward particular types of learners and interests are springing into life all over the place.

How does standardized testing and a common core curriculum match up with how and why students really learn? Isn’t this is a question legislatures and administrators might want to ask themselves as they move forward?

And what about employers? With the cost of college spiraling ever higher and student loan rates becoming prohibitive, maybe the economy should consider criteria for employment other than the ubiquitous college degree. Does an administrative assistant NEED a bachelors degree in business administration or could an office management training program do the trick? Does an entry-level library assistant really need a bachelor’s degree or even an associates degree? Vocational training, geared toward specific professions, makes much more sense to me. Couldn’t we have aptitude tests and on-the-job training? Apprenticeships?

I suspect it is time–past time–to radically rethink education and human resources. What do you think?

For further contemplation:

http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley.html

http://www.jconline.com/article/20130514/COLUMNISTS30/305140029/Bangert-An-ISTEP-rebellion-brewing-West-Lafayette-superintendent-contends-s-just-matter-time

http://ttbook.org/book/re-thinking-education

Social currency

Waterboro Reporter

Waterboro Reporter

The photo above was provided by the owner/publisher of the newspaper for which I work. The Waterboro Reporter is a locally-owned, weekly community paper that pays me for the articles I write–many about sustainability, local farmers and business people, local non-profit organization, school news, town government and activist groups. The Reporter is, I believe, an important part of the “local circle.” It is a free-to-read newspaper, with printing costs and content (read: writers like me!) costs covered only by advertising dollars, not readers.

I love the idea of currency circulating from one local business to the next local business via paychecks and purchases. This is the essence of a local economy. It also creates a type of social currency: measured only in goodwill and reciprocity.

Here is a real example: Last month, the Reporter sold advertising space to local businesses and printed up some ads that readers were sure to notice as they read the content of the paper. Then the Reporter collected the advertising money from those businesses. Last week, the Reporter sent me a check for my articles. I cashed my check on Saturday and went immediately to the Newfield Farmer’s Market–where I bought close to $25 worth of stuff. Now, if the market then took out an advertisement in the following week’s paper, the local economic circle would be complete! The money would just continue circulating–maybe going to out to a local antique store or the local supermarket–but eventually, hopefully, coming right back around and around and around.

THIS cycle is exactly what I’ve been writing about/advocating for the past four years!

Over the course of a year, with money earned from my writing gig, I’ve bought local maple syrup, a Community Supported Agriculture membership from a local farmer, and an order for a year’s worth of beef from a Limerick neighbor. I’ve shopped at the local supermarket and had countless lunches at local restaurants like the Clipper Merchant Tea House and the Peppermill. I’ve donated money to charitable causes (guess where I went on Saturday afternoon, after the market? The Limerick Historical Society penny auction.)I’ve bought incense,books, toys and other interesting stuff at local gift shops. My love for Plummer’s Hardware and the Limerick Supermarket is well-known.

Much of this I’ve documented here on Localista and shared with my facebook friends and my email list, which is also free publicity for the local businesses I love. In turn, these businesses provide me with excellent customer service and great products.

The money I spend comes from a locally owned paper whose only income–I will stress this again–is advertising. This is a newspaper that has been amazing to publish all the stories I’ve written with a sustainability slant, promoting the kind of “buy local” philosophy I hold dear. The Reporter doesn’t “sell” newspaper coverage. It covers stories we think are interesting and important whether or not an ad is purchased; however, think about that local cycle a minute. Now think some more…

Readers, please shop locally, and if you shop at one of our advertisers, let them know you saw their ad in the paper. Supporting each other, in a local economy, is the foundation of freedom from corporate control. Be part of the circle!