After Winter

May 4, 2010

Trash your public persona.

Get uncomfortable.

Get outside.

It’s possible I will not write on this blog again, or for a long while. In the meantime, I will be (and have been) speaking less and listening more. Join me in the great outdoors.

A Wet, Cold Bedroom

January 10, 2010

First of all, it’s not as hard-core as it sounds. If I couldn’t find a way to stay warm and dry, I wouldn’t be sleeping outdoors. As long as you’re prepared, most “wilderness” situations (in this case, a backyard) can be quite comfortable.

So I prepare by putting on my pajamas: long underwear, sweatpants, fleece shirt, sweater, fleece jacket, legwarmers, 2 pairs of socks, and a balaclava. In my (mostly) waterproof tent, I have a 20 degree sleeping bag, 2 blankets, and a pillow on an old foam mattress. As long as I don’t forget anything, I am indeed quite comfortable.

Even though my situation is luxurious compared to backcountry and many homesteading situations, people still ask why I go through all the effort to sleep outside when moving back in could cut my bedtime routine by half. Well, here are some perks of my wet, cold bedroom:

The stars. Yes, you can see stars in Brooklyn on a clear night. The milky way is too much to ask, but I can count on Orion.

When there’s cloud cover, the sky glows yellow, and there’s actually more light. Reflection of the city’s electricity, perhaps.

The rustle of my neighbor’s bamboo forest in the wind.

The moon. The moonshine on snow. The moon behind wisps of clouds.

The air- cool, cold, windy, still, or icy. When the air has a certain nip, it’s like I can feel my blood freezing. Sometimes the airs feels wet and heavy, and I know it will rain.

And in the morning, sometimes it’s gray. But when the sun is out, light travels slowly down the face of the brownstones opposite me.

First, pink. Then, gold. If I sleep really late, it changes to white.

Also, birdsong, and windchimes.

Candlelight Walk

January 3, 2010

It was cold and dark today, so a good friend and I decided to take a candle with us on our walk along 7th avenue.  Luckily, we had found an old-fashioned lamp with a cylindrical glass cover, which kept the wind from blowing out the light…

Here’s a shout-out to all the folks who warmed their hands and faces over the fire, or made a wish for the new year.  We were glad to have met you.

Staples: Your Local Community Center

January 2, 2010

At 7:45 am on December 31st, 2009, I was at my local Staples copy center. For various reasons that are irrelevant here, I had to copy over 100 pages of boring documents about my finances (apologies to the rainforest). I was tired and wet from the morning snowshower.

Here’s what made it better: I decided to ask the nice fellow stocking the manila folder aisle what his New Year’s resolutions were (he said he’d like to hit the gym and go back to school). I also asked the guy running the copy center hub (be the best father he could be), and a man who I think was hanging around to escape the cold (make lots of money).

Then, I asked Susan, who was working the cash register when I went to pay for my manila folders. She hadn’t thought of any resolutions yet, so she asked about mine. I said I’d start the new year by telling my family and friends I loved them. Susan said, “You know, that’s where I’d start too. Since my mother died, my family’s grown apart a little.” Susan teared up. I teared up. We laughed, said 2010 would be a good year, and teared up again. I left Staples with the well-wishes of so many nice people, and they stayed with mine.

I guess it doesn’t take much to make people human. It seems that usually, the shells we wear are thin, and want to be broken. Who wouldn’t jump at the invitation to be heard, acknowledged, and cared about? I knew that pretty well before December 31st, 2009. What amazed me was Staples- the whole store became brighter, more hopeful, more welcoming and people-centered in my mind- because the solidarity of Susan et al. gave me a reason to believe we could all be people first.

I left the store wondering how far “people first” could be pushed in a place like Staples… community gardens? Locally-made products? A free place to do homework? None of these, but still somewhere to count on a nice “hello”? I have no idea. But I will keep on saying hello, because it makes my day a whole lot nicer.

Public Post 1/2: Bucky Sells Trees

December 24, 2009

I wanted my first public post (public action) to be finding a nice, quirky christmas tree salesperson who would let me stand among her/his trees decorated in tinsel, with a box of ornaments at my feet that prospective buyers could hang on me. I thought I would sing them a carol for each ornament, and hopefully field some questions about the life of a christmas tree from rural childhood to urban maturation and death (I could then appeal to the seller for information and get a conversation started).

I was lucky enough to find a lovely tree salesperson named Bucky in my neighborhood who enjoyed the idea. However, he recommended against it, seeing as it was the day of christmas eve, and almost everyone had their trees already. We decided that an interview about the life of a christmas tree and tree seller wouldn’t hurt though. Here is what Bucky of Vermont told me. I’m counting this action as half a public post, and will do something more public as the second half…

The trees he was selling on Thursday were born in Northeastern Vermont 8 to 12 years ago, in a vast garden of trees (which used to be an old dairy farm), planted in rows. Bucky’s friend, who owns the operation, uses no chemicals. Bucky helps his friend out with the harvesting of mature trees in the winter, and his friend helps Bucky tap trees and make maple syrup during the second half of the year. Bucky grew up in the country, and loves it.  He says “where else can you wake up in the morning, look out, and see nothing?”- no crowds, pavement, general city-ness . When he comes to Brooklyn in the winter, he survives by visiting Prospect Park and walking mostly on quiet, residential streets. Bucky says that in his experience, tree sellers consider themselves environmentalists. He says it’s beautiful in the middle of the christmas tree grove, but no one has done a site-specific dance there yet. However, the famous Bread and Puppet Theatre (an activist theatre organization) is his neighbor! He would love for christmas tree buyers to appreciate the passion and hard work that goes into growing and harvesting trees, and spending weeks on the streets of our city to sell them.

Shrinking Private Space

December 22, 2009

There is a practice I heard about one year ago, called “sit spot.” It means finding a place to sit outdoors for a substantial period of time. The Wilderness Awareness School on the West Coast designed this practice for aspiring naturalists to attune themselves to their natural surroundings.

In the place where I sit most often, at the kitchen counter with my computer, I can observe my refrigerator. It makes noise sometimes. Besides that, there’s not much going on.

Yesterday, I showed up at the small nonprofit where I do some work to find the gate down. My boss didn’t answer her phone, so, confused about whether to leave and come back, go home or go to a cafe, wait or reschedule, I sat down on the fence around a small tree. The fence was cold but bearable. I pulled my fingers into the palm of my gloves, pulled up my hood, and peered out- and to my surprise, the view was pleasant. I usually try to spend as little time as possible on street corners of fourth avenue. However, I actually found the cars, the snow, and the commuters with inappropriate shoes entertaining enough, and nice to watch.  I wondered if I was seeing what the world would be like without me.

The problem with my home, perhaps, is that there’s no space without me. Generally, nothing happens unless I want it to, which feels like quite a burden when I’m not sure what I want. And yet, I have three floors of my family’s home to control, manipulate, like or dislike, accept, reject, and change. That’s a lot of self-centered decision-making to do. And it ends up feeling lonely and conceited.

I sometimes wish my house were ten times smaller. Sleeping in a tent helps. But it’s still such a journey to make my way out of private space, into the world we all share. And meanwhile, I’m stuck inside, many yards away from the street or the backyard, and the only things I can be attuned to are the refrigerator and the hyperactive buzzing of my unstimulated brain.

Mission

December 22, 2009

1) Sleep in a tent in my Brooklyn backyard all winter (2009-2010)
2) Post thoughts and ideas that I believe could be useful to others
2) Match every blogpost with a strange, creative act in public

Reason:

I sleep in a tent because I like it better than my bedroom (though I haven’t tried a winter before). I’m not sure if many other New Yorkers can relate to that. However, I think my sleeping arrangement is tied to some things that affect us all, like our configuration of public and private space, the way we treat the environment, and the integrity (or not) of our communities.

I’m glad to share what I hope will be clear, interesting thoughts online. However, it makes me sad that the internet is in many ways the most public place we have. (Where else do we feel as free to explore, ask questions, imagine futures, or learn about other people and what they’re doing?) Because of this, I plan to match every post with an interactive public action that sheds my anonymity a little and tries to help other people shed theirs.