Monday, March 13, 2017

More Than Money

I'd been aware of this author for a while through his wonderful monthly column in Yankee magazine, in which he chronicles what I would call my dream life in snowy, verdant northern Vermont. I secretly doubt I would be hardy enough to do what Hewitt and his family are doing (he has a delightful blog, too), and welcomed the chance to test that theory when this book came my way.

In $aved, Hewitt uses his friend Erik's life choices as a jumping-off point for a variety of topics, all related to money and--more importantly--to the idea of wealth. Erik is a modern-day Thoreau of sorts, living on an income the rest of us would consider impoverished, yet enjoying a surfeit of time and friendship, a moderate amount of work that he loves and is well-suited for, nearly always sufficient bodily comfort, and a small collection of possessions that are truly meaningful to him.

While telling Erik's story and his own, Hewitt also explores industrialization, the monetary system, the commodification of nature, and a host of other money-related topics that could easily become deadly dull, were it not for the sometimes humorous, sometimes inspiring, sometimes shocking narrative of personal stories and events that frame the more cerebral topics.

This exploration of money's myriad variations leads to what Hewitt calls the Conscious Economy, in which one recognizes the ultimate truth that one's time is indeed one's life, and that bargaining one's life away to buy things one doesn't have time to enjoy is a poor trade--and then acts on that recognition. It's "more process than prescription," as Hewitt describes it, and that saves this book from being preachy and/or impractical.

If you're the least bit inclined to turn a skeptical eye to the seductions of modern materialism, this book is well worth the time you will spend savoring its ideas. They are rich reading indeed.

Excerpt (Erik builds his cabin with hardly any money):

Indeed, at every step of Erik's construction process, I saw how mutual trust, combined with no small amount of toil, had built his home. The owner of the property on which he'd built trusted that he would treat the land with respect; he trusts that she wouldn't send him packing or sell the land out from underneath him. Those who loaned him tools trusted that he would return them in good working order on an agreed-upon date. What labor was not the product of his own sweat had been given freely and without a specific expectation of reciprocity. But even this indicated the presence of trust, for there was confidence that Erik would not exploit this generosity and that . . . he would hold it like a currency, as if he were merely its temporary vessel, to be dispensed into the community as needs dictated.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Time Flies

Just a friendly reminder: If you're joining the BYRC this year, you need to be signed up before March 1.

Sign up in the comments here, and/or check the progress page here to make sure I have you listed.

And if you have any idea how March can be just around the corner already (yikes!), please let me know ASAP!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Not Blogging

I'm a little behind on the blogging, but I have a good excuse! See you next week!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ethereal 2017 - My Sign-Up

Because I was invited by a new bloggy friend who hosts this challenge: the dynamic Carolyn at Riedel Fascination.

Because I have some cool books on my shelves that I need to prioritize.

Because reading about the Green Man will give me hours of pleasure, not to mention a walk down memory lane.

Because some obsessions never abate.

Because connecting with the archetype of our relationship with Nature is more important than ever these days.

Because I can't say no to a good challenge!

And therefore:

I'm joining Ethereal 2017, a challenge that focuses on books about spirits, souls, spirit encounters real or fictional, the paranormal, faith, mysticism, fantasy, folklore, sacred environments, and such topics, including (quite naturally, now that I think about it) children’s books, because plants and animals in children's books are depicted in magical ways.

This is a great excuse to delve into my Green Man books, which are solidly within the folklore realm and a long-term interest of mine. To wit: once when I saw the Green Man on a building in Toronto, I let out a shriek of excitement and joyful recognition that stopped passers-by in their tracks. It remains a happy memory to this day, more than 10 years later.

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a photo of the Green Man of Bamburg, one of numerous depictions throughout history. The cathedral in which he makes his home was consecrated in May of 1237. And what's he doing in a Christian building? Ah, that's the mystery and the allure.

Photo credit: Pinterest

These days the Green Man is most often seen in garden sculptures and on beer labels, but don't be fooled. He's a powerful symbol from ancient and medieval worlds. 

I look forward to reading more about him. My books will be:

Seeking the Green - Tylluan Penry
Uprooted: On the Trail of the Green Man - Nina Lyon
The Land of the Green Man: A Journey Through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles - Carolyne Larrington

Monday, February 6, 2017

Exploring the Failure Zone

This tidy little volume, Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better, came to me as a mystery gift from my local book haunt. They were giving away books one Christmas, already wrapped, with clever little hints on the tags. It's been waiting patiently on my TBR list ever since.

In some ways this is the perfect book for me, because I'm a perfectionist. I work very hard to be more relaxed about things--and if you think that last assertion is funny, then you know exactly what I'm saying.

Just the other day at the start of a presentation, I had to log in while the screen was already being projected onto the big screen for the entire audience to see. That was the most stressful part of the entire presentation: knowing that if I made a typo and couldn't log in the first time, everyone would see and know. Not that they would care, mind you--it was a friendly audience. I just hate making a mistake when folks are watching!

The book began as a graduation speech Buddhist nun Pema Chodron gave when her granddaughter graduated from Naropa University. The text of the speech is delivered a few sentences at a time, on the right-hand page, with an interesting simple illustration on the left-hand page. It unfurls gently, giving the reader plenty of time to think about each nugget of wisdom before proceeding on to the next. The illustrations progress, too, building into complex patterns and then morphing into other patterns, always reflective of the words on their counterpart pages. (The illustrations make this a kind of flip book, too, which is a nice bonus.)

The speech itself is imbued with the Buddhist sense of engaging with things as they are, even the most uncomfortable things: not hiding, not avoiding, not shoving under the rug. It's a message that's not easy to hear in our fix-it-quick society, where we're all too ready to blame external forces for our problems and/or to move on quickly as though we had nothing to do with whatever disaster has occurred. It was simultaneously restful and challenging to pause, reflect, face up to the idea of failure, and try to make it a teacher, maybe even a friend.

The graduation speech is augmented with the transcript of an interview with the author in which many of the same points are explored more deeply. It made the book more substantial, turning it from something you might give as a gift for a graduation into a book you might also buy for yourself and return to over time.

My copy was an uncorrected proof. I didn't find any errors (and I have an eagle eye). I do hope they made a slight correction in the book's design, because this very nice and thoughtful text is printed in grey ink. The illustrations were quite dark and seemed to jump off the page in comparison to the text. The grey text, on the other hand, was difficult to read unless the light was very, very good.

So, getting comfortable with failure. Maybe even embracing failure as a learning tool. Perhaps, dare I say it, welcoming failure as the gateway toward doing better next time.


Your best qualities come out of that place because it's unguarded and you're not shielding yourself. Failing better means that failure becomes a rich and fertile ground instead of just another slap in the face. . . . And it isn't that failure doesn't still hurt. I mean, you lose people you love. All kinds of things happen that break your heart, but you can hold failure and loss as part of your human experience and that which connects you with other people.

Note: This book counts toward the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge. I'm also counting it as the letter C (Naropa University is in Boulder, Colorado) for the Where are You Reading Challenge.