Ancestry.com wrote to say that they had updated the results of my DNA tests and they had new information to share with me. I went to the website and was shocked to see that I was no longer part Irish, but rather 26% Scottish. I have been part Irish all my life, as well as part Native American. The first go-round Ancestry said that, no, I had no Native American DNA per their results. Shocking. But this time I'm no longer Irish -- I'm Scottish?????!!!!. As my daughter Molly and niece Jaden had also learned about being part Scottish, we spent some time exploring our heritage, at least the obvious parts: Mel Gibson as William Wallace, Sean Connery as Sean Connery, Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser and nameless attractive people in handsome plaids. More will be revealed. Time to work on my shortbread.
Friday, September 18, 2020
Friday, September 11, 2020
I was on a panel today with architect/planner Mark Barksdale, who opened his remarks by recounting his experience of looking at the hole in the side of the Tower, knowing from his training that the building would collapse, and being helpless to stop it. He felt sick when he heard that people had been told to shelter in place rather than flee. His vivid image of the wounded Tower made me think of the many wounds to the social fabric of our nation. I often wonder these days if our society will collapse, and so do many other people.
I was heartened by listening to Reverend William Barber II. Toby Horn, a college classmate, sent me a link to a Facebook Live event, Rev. Barber II chatting by phone with Andy Shallal of Washington, DC's Busboys and Poets Bookstore. Rev. Barber said to Andy, "We must vote this November. We must have people in office who will fight for the poor, the low-wealth and all who are oppressed and marginalized. And after we vote, we will insist that they do the right thing. Forward together, not one step back." This possibility filled me with joy.
And I also took heart from the University of Orange weekly newsletter, which told the story of NYC RECOVERS, a project my colleagues and I started after 9.11. Reading about the project reminded me of all we learned in tending to the social and emotional recovery of New York City, and most particularly the tasks of groups, which we named: Remember, Respect, Learn and Connect.
Life is, after all, a conversation with the world in which we try to name the problems, try to remember when we've faced them before and then try to remember what worked. We can get lost in this process, and that's what friends are for. One of my friends, Doug Farrand, has spent the past five months reminding me that, back in March, I said we needed to turn on the love to get through this moment. His repetition of my advice is slowly sinking in. This photo of a rock in Highbridge Park, which was the last slide I showed on the panel, captures this sentiment. Remember, Respect, Learn and Connect -- and TURN ON THE LOVE.
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Yesterday I got to celebrate the publication of my new book, Main Street: How a City's Heart Connects Us All. It was a great party, aptly outlined by architect/artist Carol Hsuing, who designed the book's cover.
I loved that Andy Merrifield, who wrote the foreword, called in from Cambridge, England, Michel Cantal-Dupart, to whom the book is dedicated, called in from Paris, and Hirofumi Minami, who invented the stroll-and-scroll method I used, got up early in the morning to call in from Japan.
So many great friends and colleagues showed up -- as I noticed 121 people were in the Zoom at one point, I can't even begin to name them all!
And we had extraordinary moments, like listening to Winston Nelson play a Bach arrangement he had made. Michael Lally read two of his poems he allowed me to reprint in the book, as well as tinkling the ivories to Thelonius Monk's "Easy Street," which Andy said was the book's anthem.
A special part of the evening was giving "Might and Main" Awards to people who have contributed so much to making and maintaining America's Main Streets. It was a real pleasure that Mayor Barry W. Conaway joined us to receive the award for "Best Main Street" on behalf of his city. Tony Gonzalez received the "Best Spirit Animal" award on behalf of himself and the CLIMB team. Winston Nelson accepted the award to the Ebenezer Gospel Choir for "Best Gospel Choir in the Circle." Peter Walsh accepted the "Love my 'Hood" award on behalf of Coogan's Restaurant, and pledged to fight for Main Streets and small businesses everywhere. While Robert Sember was not accepting the award to Johannesburg's Baked on Grant for "Best Poached Eggs on Rye Toast," he agreed that they were amazing.
The evening represented what I have to say about Main Streets: they are made by our collective labor, the whole tangle of Main Streets is greater than the sum of its parts, and we need them now more than ever for their powerful centripetal force, pulling us together to solve our problems.
Sunday, August 23, 2020
For weeks now I've been in the midsummer madness of my tomato vines, which want to encompass all of New Jersey. It's been terrifying and I understand why Shakespeare wrote that play. But the days are getting shorter and school is about to start. I have to turn my attention to my "to-do" list. As people who work with me know, I'm a devotee of the Planner Pad, one of those systems of productivity, guaranteeing flow from concept to product. I love products, which is why I've written over 100 papers and eight books, the latest of which, Main Street: How a City's Heart Connects Us All, comes out September 8th.
This afternoon I was talking to Buddhist teacher Dr. Marisela Gomez, whose research team had started using Microsoft Planner, which I gather is something like my analog book. She was talking about going from buckets to tasks. "But Marisela," I asked, "is this maybe a neoliberal plot to keep us focused on little buckets instead of the big picture of what's happening to the ecosystem?" (We'd been talking earlier about the evils of neoliberalism, which is probably why I made that connection.)
She reflected for a moment and then said, "Yes. We inter-are." She was taught by Thich Naht Hanh, who developed the expression. She had explained this phrase to me some time ago, that we do not live as isolated, atomistic individuals, but rather as an interdependent web of life. The reality is that we are not independent beings, we are interdependent beings -- "we inter-are." In Thich Naht Hanh's calligraphy:
We talked about what an Inter-Are page might look like in a planner. I was so inspired by this way to open my frame of reference that I used the Design Sketchbook technique I learned from Dan Rothschild to make a collage about the Big Picture. I clipped some images that resonated: some graphs and text boxes from Shelterforce, and two images from the Times, one of a person picking cherries and the other of convict firefighters going to fight the raging fires in California.
These captured for me the call from Rev Brian McLaren, one of my teachers at the Living School, that we strive to see and hear, “the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed.”
As the song, "Let there be peace on Earth," was earworming me, I added that. It makes a difference to look at the little buckets of work that lie ahead -- reading a dissertation, writing a paper, attending meetings -- with this big picture in mind. What if this were a practice -- to start my week on Sundays by looking at the stories that have passed my way and considering the Inter-Are of it all? Would I learn to hold this Big Picture without flinching, able to be a source of peace and love? Would I just veer off into escapist TV? (God, I hope not.)
And what if all of us added an Inter-Are page to our planners? I am hoping the Dr. Gomez will invent a new planner for us, help us see that's it all more fragile than we thought, without being swamped by the truth.
Friday, July 31, 2020
Monday, July 27, 2020
|My bag of Maine Grains Wheat Flour next to some produce from my garden -- including the giant cucumber I found lingering in the vines -- normal cucumbers for comparison.|
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
As a teenager, I fought the acceptance of this fact with all my heart and soul. Like all painful truths, I had to pass through the depression that comes with painful truths, in this case, that I would hit limits not related to my abilities. But, having passed through that phase, I could relax into reality. I could embrace my possibilities and fight my limits. One of my father's many sayings was, "Lower your buckets where ye may," possibly a version of a line from Booker T. Washington's Atlanta Compromise speech. My dad did not accept racial injustice, but he knew he had to do what he could wherever he was. When I didn't get NIH grants, I looked around for other ways to study the crises of the ghetto. There were many. Much to my pleasure, I have been able to document how the government is treating us in eight books and more than a hundred papers.
The glass box that has placed limits on my productivity has not been the last word in my life. But imagine the world we might have, the energy we would liberate, if we stopped boxing some people in and forcing others to live in a delusion? As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said,