Category Archives: Our Wacky Culture

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

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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?

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

Be Strong: From Corsets to Yoga Shorts

apple blossoms yoga bottoms 2013 012

Once upon a time, young women wore corsets made of whalebone. Magazines like VOGUE showed young women how to dress fashionably. This photo was taken at the Limerick Academy building here in my town. The Limerick Historical Society gathered items from the archives to create a variety of Edwardian Era (1901-World War I) displays inside the old academy. The hats are from the collection of Blanche Trafton Hatton, who loved hats and collected over 50 of them, according to local history. Her mother, Ellen “Nellie” Trafton was Limerick’s dressmaker.

apple blossoms yoga bottoms 2013 011 Here is one of Nellie’s creations.

It seems women’s fashions have come a long way since then…or have they?

After reading this article regarding Abercrombie & Fitch’s philosophy and marketing strategies targeting only thin and average-sized youth, I thought, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

I’m tired of hearing young women talk about “being fat” while swimming in their size 5 jeans. I’m tired of watching young women appraise their bodies with frowns of disgust and refusing to eat adequate calories because they believe they will be judged harshly if they have too much girth in the hips. Why would they believe us when we tell them, “nobody is judging you” and “you are beautiful just the way you are” when the guy who sells the clothes that hold the most social status in high school judges them every time they walk into that stinky, dim, navy-overloaded store in the mall?

I like fashion. I like fashion magazines. I don’t like the shrinking size of the models. They do not look like healthy women, most of them. Some look downright anorexic.

I like this model in the Hard Tail ad in this month’s Yoga Journal magazine.

apple blossoms yoga bottoms 2013 007

Strong. Balanced. Graceful.

And look what I found at Goodwill today for $2.99!

Danskins!

Danskins!

My wish is that young women (and older women, too) will be able to enjoy their bodies, to work toward balance and grace and strength rather than mere thinness. Thin does not equal beauty. Thin is thin. Beauty is beauty. Thin can be beautiful. It can also be scary and ugly. Big can be scary and ugly. It can also be beautiful. So can medium. All sizes can be strong. All sizes can be weak.

I say, be STRONG!

apple blossoms yoga bottoms 2013 010

What do you think?

Vegan or Paleo or Something In Between?

Green Smoothie

Green Smoothie

Dear Reader:

One of my favorite bloggers–Shane at GroundtoGround.org–recently wrote about a “new” protein option: mealworms. Yes, mealworms. Of course, eating insects isn’t really a new concept at all. It is very, very ancient. And this leads me to a topic that I’ve been contemplating the past couple of weeks, human diet.

http://groundtoground.org/2013/01/30/how-prepare-eat-mealworms/

What is the optimal sustainable diet for human beings? Can diet cure disease, especially those pesky autoimmune diseases that seem to be arrowing through our populations with debilitating, even tragic, effect? Will a diet that includes plenty of animal product ultimately destroy the planet? Or, looking at this from another angle, will a diet that restricts meat in favor of water-and nutrient-sucking monocrops like grains destroy the planet? Is it wrong to eat something with a face? And how does all this relate to the goal of living locally?

Obviously, I can’t answer all these questions in a single blog post. Heck, I probably couldn’t even scratch the surface in a single book. Here is what I’ve been reading and watching and thinking and doing this January:

1. Started out by watching the film FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD at the local library. This is basically the story of a man who was overweight and suffering from an autoimmune skin disorder who healed himself on a juicing fast. Theory: concentrated nutrients in the juice plus cleansing allows the body to heal itself. http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com/

2. Watched the film FORKS OVER KNIVES which explores the idea that diseases can be eliminated or controlled by rejecting processed foods and animal products. http://www.forksoverknives.com/

3. Watched the film FOOD MATTERS which attempts to show that our highly-processed, chemicalized diets are causing health problems and gives solutions for healing. http://foodmatters.tv/content/about-the-film

These three films pretty much advocated for a diet VERY strong in minimally-processed, plant-based foods. Diabetes, heart-disease, hypertension, cancer, inflammation, etc. were all cited as consequences of our unnatural diet. I have a pesky asthma problem that I’ve been trying to heal for years now. I was excited to watch these films, and thought…well, maybe. I knew I wouldn’t go to straight juicing, at least if I could help it. For one thing, I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a good juicer. For another, it just seemed a tad drastic. So I decided to give the vegan way of eating a try.

No. I have to go back even further.

A few years ago, I tried a macrobiotic diet which is almost vegan. It does recommend fish and shellfish products in moderation. While I liked the weight-loss that occurred and the energy I felt, my asthma did not seem to respond at all after seven months and my skin took on a rather sickly pale, yellowish tone. Soon I added meats back in my diet while continuing to eat a lot of veggies and fruits. I also began the process of trying to eat from local sources, including eggs, milk, and meat.

Cut to the present. So, vegan eating would be a challenge for me on a philosophical level. Rice isn’t grown in New England, right? But I went ahead and started cooking some of my old macro foods and tried some new vegan recipes. They were delicious, but no matter how much I ate, I couldn’t feel satisfied. This was different from the macro…because I was getting no seafood? Really? And as I continued to cook some local meats for my family, I noticed how those foods began to smell better and better to me as time went on.

Then, almost two weeks after giving up animal foods, I came down with a rip-roaring virus. I ached from the deepest part of my bones all the way out to my skin. As soon as I had some appetite back, what did I consume? Homemade chicken soup and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream! I either craved those animal foods because there was something nutritionally necessary in them or else I was still detoxing and craving what was bad for me. Which was it? As my grandfather used to say, damned if I know!

I thought I’d continue with the vegan diet for awhile, treating my body like my own little pet test rat. I sat down to watch an episode Peak Moment Television (check it out…very cool!) while eating a vegan lunch of mushroom/garlic/onion fried rice on a bed of arugula, and pow! A title caught my eye: The Vegetarian Myth. Wait a minute, I thought. Myth?

4. Scarfing down my rice and greens, I watched while the host of Peak Moment Television interviews Lierre Keith on her book, The Vegetarian Myth. Then I downloaded the book to my Kindle and have been reading it as voraciously as I had eaten that pint of Chunky Monkey ice-cream a few days before.

Talk about blowing the vegan theories out of the water! It wasn’t exactly all new to me, either, as I had read about Weston Price and his studies on traditional societies and their diets years ago. The skinny on the myth? Humans need meat. Oh, and civilization and agriculture are going to ruin the environment. Hmmmm. http://www.amazon.com/Vegetarian-Myth-Food-Justice-Sustainability/dp/1604860804

5. Because I just can’t leave well-enough along, I had to google “vegetarian myth debunked” and discovered a plethora of counter-arguments. Try it! Oh, the fun we could have arguing about diet, nutrition, sustainability, civilization, animal rights, and justice.

***************** long pause*************

What did I eat today? Steel-cut oats cooked in a slow-cooker with chopped dried apricots and dates and a banana. Coffee with soy milk. Baby spinach, leftover rice, and macrobiotic nashime veggies: onions, squash, carrots & kombu (a seaweed) cooked slowly on the stovetop with a couple inches of water (really, really delicious, I kid you not).

Oh, and a natural ground turkey burger that tasted heavenly.

Between all the information about fat-soluable vitamins only found in animal foods to endothelial cells that heal only in the absence of animal foods I am a mixed-up, don’t-know-which-way-to-look-for-my-food human being.

And then there is Shane with his mealworms. Sigh.

A quick poll of my social media friends yields practical advice. Eat in moderation. Every body is different. Do what works for you. We are designed to be omnivores. Put bacon on everything (Good one, Scott C!)

Finally, I have to also think about my localista endeavors. The most local diet I can get in Maine is going to have to include animal foods, plain and simple. My local area is rocky and hilly…suitable for grazing animals but not necessarily for raising a lot of rye and wheat. Definitely no brown rice. I also have come to understand (or believe) that a sustainable agriculture necessarily includes animals in order to create a closed-loop system. In other words, we need something to eat the grass we can’t digest, to turn that grass into food we can digest, and to provide nutrients in the form of manure back to the earth. On this point, I have to agree with Keith rather than the vegan-diet proponents.

Perhaps–in order to heal a chronic condition or to detox from a western-style diet high in processed foods and chemicals and too much meat and cheese from nasty feedlots and meat-processing facilities, antibiotic-pumped cows and debeaked chickens and pigs laying in their own filth–a juice fast and vegan approach is a way to reboot. Then, when health is restored, eat foods from local, sustainable, organic farms similar to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. Nix the processed stuff. Go extremely easy on the sugar. Eat lots of vegetables and local fruits. Meats and fats in moderation.

Like Michael Pollan concludes in his book In Defense of Food, perhaps the best prescription for a fairly healthy individual is “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Perhaps.

What do you think?

Am I Rita Skeeter?

Dear Reader:

When I dressed up in a green and black feather boa and headpiece on Halloween night and headed out into the community to take pictures and jot notes for my newspaper column, a few people yelled, “I know who you are…Rita Skeeter!”

My response? “Um, I didn’t plan to be Rita Skeeter, but I guess I’m glad I’m somebody.” In truth, I picked up the costume pieces on a whim a couple months ago, and on a whim dressed up on Halloween before heading into town. I guess with the fluffy boa, my signature red lipstick, my glasses, and my notebook and pen, I did bear a slight resemblance to the Harry Potter newshound.

My new life as a journalist keeps me out and about in the community, talking to the people who run the town as well as the regular people who live and work here but keep out of the spotlight. I’ve been to selectmen meetings, covered events at the elementary school, interviewed community members for profile pieces, and even slurped down some green juice at a free showing of the film FAT, SICK AND NEARLY DEAD at the public library. I practically beg people to send me tidbits of news that I can expand into articles. I am in my element. I can be nosy but detached, involved but not imbedded. I stand outside it, observe, and report what I see and hear. It’s awesome!

I’m also humbled by the responsibility. Okay, so it isn’t the end of the world if I spell someone’s name wrong, but I do need to be cognizant that everything I chose to highlight and everything I chose to leave out creates meaning in the story. I can chose to underscore the positive or I can spotlight the conflicts and negativity. Is this choice to highlight the positive a kind of skewing of the truth? Is it an angle?

Of course it is.

I hope I’m NOT Rita Skeeter, the reporter in the Harry Potter series who slants everything toward the sensational and titillating. I hope I have more journalistic integrity than to take others’ innocent behavior and twist it into something scandalous, but I also hope to write the truth, to capture this place in all its weirdness and its normalcy, its high moments and its times of adversity, its people and its industry. In other words, I do have an agenda. My agenda is to strengthen the community by showing my fellow citizens who we are, what we do, how we do it here in our small, rural town.