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Appreciating the Ordinary

Laird's Blog -

One of the secrets of a happy life is having a Low Threshold of Delight—finding joy in many things.

I'm reflecting on this as my week-long visit with Susan Anderson slides into its second half. I've been here for five days now and our newly minted intimate relationship is well begun. While it's tempting to assemble a highlight reel offering readers a peek of peak moments in the last 120 hours (whence the phrase labor of love), I want to focus today's essay instead on the mundane—which comprises the overwhelming majority of our daily lives, and gives us the greatest opportunity for boosting the amount of joy we experience, if we'd just open our eyes to it.

—Making the bed
Noticing that Susan likes a made bed when she enters her bedroom at the end of the evening, I've made it a point to take a couple turns making the bed in the morning. While it's more for her than me (who tends to be more casual about making my bed in NC), my paying attention and honoring what's comfortable for her sends the right message.

—Making the coffee
Since we both drink coffee, it's not right that Susan be the one to make it each morning. Yes, I needed to learn how to use her particular set of caffeine paraphernalia, but it didn't take that long and isn't it better that half the time I can present Susan with a cup of hot coffee when she comes downstairs instead of her waiting on me all the time?

—Emptying the dish drainer
As we both eat, it only makes sense that we both clean and put things away. That meant learning where everything goes. While I didn't digest it all in one go, it's not rocket science and I've just about got it.

—Chopping onions
Susan and I both like to cook (hooray!). Since her kitchen can comfortably hold two people with sharp knives at the same time without undo risk to life and limb, we take turns being the lead chef (the one who selects the menu and the recipes) and the sous chef (the one who chops the onions and brushes the dirt off the mushrooms).

—Doing the crossword together
While I'm not in Duluth principally for the word play, I seldom pass up an opportunity when it presents itself. While Susan gets first dibs on the daily sudoku we've enjoyed cracking a couple New York Times Sunday Crosswords together, helping each other over the rough spots.

—Playing ball with Lucie
Susan has a shelter dog named Lucie. She's seven years old and a beautiful mixed breed of border collie and black lab. Because Lucie is used to sharing the house only with Susan, I've been viewed with a certain amount of skepticism, and it's been challenging to get physically close to Susan without Lucie inserting herself between us. While it's been difficult to discern how much of that is protective and how much is not wanting to be left out, either way it tends to break up the rhythm of Susan's and my exploration. Mostly it's funny… but not entirely.

Our working hypothesis is that evenings will go better if one of us spends some quality time with Lucie at the nearby park playing fetch right before bed time, hopefully cutting back on Lucie's barking and/or throwing herself at Susan's bedroom door during quiet hours. • • •Yesterday, Susan and I went to a neighborhood Fourth of July Party. It started at 4pm and didn't officially end until we got home from the fireworks at 11 pm, at which point we still needed to walk the dog. While I'm making steady progress in recovering strength and resilience since overlifting and straining my lower back nine months ago, I'm still plagued by sore ribs and often appreciate a nap in the middle of the day—a respite I didn't have time for yesterday.
All of which is to say, we were pooped by the time we got to bed last night.

Nonetheless, I took the time to appreciate how Susan drew people into the conversation at the party. There were about a dozen folks in all, representing an odd lot of neighbors, family relations, and friends of friends—which added up to people who knew each other well, and others not so much. It was fun observing Susan (and others) work the party, making sure that everyone was invited to share what was going on their life, all the while keeping a weather eye on the hors d'oeuvres to see when the chip bowl needed replenishing, or it was time to circulate a new plate of finger food. This kind of undemonstrative social lubricant can easily go unnoticed, but after four-plus decades of living in community, I know better and I made a point of telling Susan that I noticed the skill she displayed in putting others at ease.

Going the other way, Susan asked about my back after the fireworks show over Duluth Harbor, observing that I may have needed to lie down more than I needed to be extending the festivities into the night atop an outdoor rock wall to see the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air. From there we debriefed the party, so that I could better learn her friends and their relationships. 

The point of my telling this story is that after seven hours at a party Susan and I both chose opening comments (when we were first alone afterwards) that were appreciatively focused on the other. Enduring relationships, I've come to understand, are built more out of the wattle and daub of such caring conversations than the occasional bonfire or rocket launch.

How else might the evening have ended? We might not have talked at all. We might have moved directly into the animal heat that is characteristic of lovers their first week together.

Or we might have focused on weariness. I could have lamented my sore back, subtly encouraging Susan to have regretted suggesting that we stayed for the boom booms. Susan could have underscored her frustration at having achieved low Boggle scores, or that I hadn't volunteered to take a turn helping with dish washing during the party. The point is that we have choices about where we put our attention, and what feelings we want to reinforce.

In the couples work I did with Ma'ikwe the last two years, I learned a good deal about who I am and what it takes to create successful partnerships. It turns out that consistently choosing to focus on what's working and appreciating what your partner brings to the table is powerfully predictive of which relationships are the ones where love will thrive. Knowing that that's the kind I want, I'm purposefully bending the sapling of my budding relationship with Susan in that direction, so that the tree will be inclined to follow that trajectory.

In such ways does the ordinary have a good deal of influence about what becomes extraordinary, and leads to greater joy along the way.

The Subject Tonight Is Love

Laird's Blog -

Give yourself to love, if love is what you're after;
Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter,
And give yourself to love.

—from the chorus of Give Yourself to Love by Kate Wolf (1982)

I woke up yesterday morning with these lyrics on my lips… and with Susan Anderson lying next to me—the woman I have just given my heart to.

The Back Story
Susan and I met as classmates at Carleton College (1967-71) and first confessed a mutual interest in each other in 1970, but we were in other relationships at the time and didn't do anything about it—until this past month, when we tentatively started blowing on old coals and discovered, to our mutual delight, that there remained a considerable amount of banked heat. Today we have a merry little fire going.

There have been a couple other moments in the last 45 years where we checked in with each other, quietly affirming our continuing interest, yet we were never both available at the same time and it went no further. We've each been married once and played a significant role in the other's wedding (I was a bridegroom for her & Tony in 1979, and she had a speaking role in the ceremony that Ma'ikwe & I handcrafted in 2007), fully rooting for those relationships to last. Susan's marriage ended when Tony died of colon cancer in 2004; and my marriage tended when Ma'ikwe decided she'd had enough of me as her husband last February.

As I reflect on all the things that needed to come together in the right sequence for this tender flame to become so oxygenated—a seed that took 45 years to germinate—I'm shaking my head at the improbability of our story. Incredibly, we both hear the music and are ready to dance, with each other, at the same moment.

Nature BoyThere was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me:
"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return"

—Nat King Cole (1948)
You may know this as the song chosen as the melancholy opening and closing of the movie Moulin Rouge (2001) that was sung by Ewan McGregor, encapsulating his desperate love for the character played by Nicole Kidman. Carol Swann (with whom I seriously explored partnership 15 years ago) offered to sing Nature Boy at my wedding in 2007. I told her the lyrics were excellent but the energy seemed unaligned with the up-tempo ceremony we desired. Not knowing how else to sing the song, she chose something else. While Carol's choice worked well (a musical improvisation of a Marge Piercy poem), I have not forgotten that Nature Boy, to paraphrase Robert Frost, was the song not taken.

Today, I've cycled back to the haunting truth of Nature Boy. Susan and I are in our mid-60s, which means the bulk of our living is behind us and the time remaining is uncertain. No one knows how much sand remains in their personal hourglass, and we have both lost contemporaries to death and illness—an inexorable trend that will only increase. 

Looking openly at where we are, we are not choosing to be careful; we are choosing love. Rather than wasting a moment on what might have been, we are choosing to dance with whatever sand we have left. We are choosing to be alive, and I'm all in.

He won't hurt you, will he?
This was a question recently posed to Susan by a couple of concerned friends, once they became aware that something was afoot (or afootsie, you might say). Not knowing anything of me, they are being protective of their friend, not wanting her to be taken advantage of—to get her heart opened and then broken.

While Susan and I have laughed at this—a choice that is artlessly easy when immersed in the first rush of a new relationship (who wants to be cautious when you're infectiously happy?), there remains truth in it, because you cannot fully open your heart without being vulnerable to incredible suffering if things later go awry. And you have to commit yourself to the rapids of love without certainty of where the rocks lie that can hole your canoe. There is risk.

Susan and I have both gone through the agony of loss and a broken heart, and yet are choosing to love again, with each other, because Kate Wolf and Nature Boy were both right and when you boil it all down, why would you choose anything else?

In these giddy early days we have little idea what this love means in terms of how our lives will intertwine going forward. All of those conversations are ahead of us. Yet our energy burns brightly and cleanly in this opening movement of our symphony—and that is sufficient to fuel our fire for quite a while.

What's Hafiz Say About It?
The title for this essay is taken from a book of the collected love poems of the 14th Century Sufi poet, Hafiz, translated with care and verve by Daniel Ladinsky (1999). I will close with this fitting selection from that book:

Never Say It Is Not God 
I taste what you taste. I know the kind of lyrics
your Soul most likes. I know which sounds will become
Resplendent in your mind and bring such pleasure
Your feet will jump and whirl.
When anything touches or enters your body
Never say it is not God, for He is
Just trying to get close.
I have no use for divine patience — my lips are always
Burning and everywhere. I am running from every corner
Of this world and sky wanting to kiss you;
I am every particle of dust and wheat — you and I
Are ground from His Own Body. I am rioting at your door;
I am spinning in midair like golden falling leaves
Trying to win your glance.
I am sweetly rolling against your walls and your shoresAll night, even though you are asleep. I am singing from
The mouths of animals and birds honoring our
Beloved’s promise and need: to let
you know the Truth.
My dear, when anything touches or enters your body
Never say it is not God, for He and I are
Just trying to get close to you.
God and I are rushing
From every corner of existence, needing to say,
“We are yours.”

Crunchy Cons

Laird's Blog -

I recently read Rod Dreher's 2006 book, Crunchy Cons, subtitled [take a deep breath] how Birkenstocked Berkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party).

It's a breezy read, where the author pays a bit too much attention to being witty and not enough to being thorough, yet is worthwhile nonetheless. What do I mean by not thorough? Dreher complains about how mainstream conservatives leave no room in their firmament for his minority brand of politics—environmentally and socially conscious conservatives who do not bow down to the idol of commerce as the highest god—yet turns right around and commits the same error in neglecting to recognize people like me: a thoughtful liberal who has gotten off the consumer horse long before Dreher did and has already been frequenting all the same stops he visits in his cook's tour of the thoughtful conservative: slow food, organic farming, homeschooling, buying local, preserving beauty, emphasizing the primacy of relationships, and buying houses with front porches. Where Dreher believes that only organized religion can provide sufficient moral support to sustain the personal discipline necessary to be a true conservative, I observe, that's not all how I discovered and have maintained a lifestyle that's remarkably similar to the ideal he espouses. And "conservative" is not a label I gravitate toward at all.

Nonetheless, I think it's a valuable contribution to the larger political dialog that tends to be limited to the simplistic, knee-jerk sorting-everyone-into-one-of-two-camps mentality: a) liberal Democrats who are obsessed with sexual freedom, a large governmental safety net, and environmental sanity; or b) conservative Republicans who are staunch defenders of the free market, minimal gun laws, and national defense.
Dreher makes the case—and I agree— that there has to be something better. He articulates what he thinks a thoughtful conservative (as in someone who wants to conserve what's valuable in life) ought to believe in. The term "crunchy" in the book's title comes, as far as I can discern, from his pro-environment stance (conserving the Earth rather than embracing the more common Republican spin that God's creatures and creations are here principally for man to consume, carrying capacities be damned), which is often associated derisively with "crunchy granola types." Besides, it's alliterative (an aesthetic I appreciate).

So here's Dreher's ten point overview (in italics) with my commentary (in Roman). Much of it I like:

A Crunchy Con Manifesto

1. We are conservatives who stand outside the contemporary conservative mainstream. We like it here; the view is better, for we can see things that matter more clearly.

I agree both that Dreher's is a minority viewpoint, and that it's based on taking a longer view than is apparent in most conservatives (who gleeful discount the future by insisting on viewing it through the myopic lens of compound interest).

2. We believe that modern conservatism has become too focused on material conditions, and insufficiently concerned with the character of society. The point of life is not to become a more satisfied shopper.

Amen, brother.

3. We affirm the superiority of the free market as an economic organizing principle, but believe the economy must be made to serve humanity's best interests, not the other way around. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.

Though I'm not ready to swallow the large frog that Dreher begins with, I like where he croaks with it—everything that follows after the word but. When it comes to embracing the free market system, it is not apparent to me that Dreher has looked deeply enough at how free market capitalism is inimical to environmental sanity—which he says he embraces.

4. We believe that culture is more important than politics, and that neither America's wealth nor our liberties will long survive a culture that no longer lives by what Russell Kirk* identified as "the Permanent Things"—those eternal moral norms necessary to civilized life, and which are taught by all the world's great wisdom traditions.

* [Kirk lived 1918-1994. His best known work was The Conservative Mind, published in 1953, tracing the roots of conservative thought in the Anglo-American tradition back to Edmund Burke.]

I'm good with this, and appreciate that Dreher has framed this in terms of "wisdom traditions" instead of "religious traditions."

5. A conservatism that does not recognize the need for restraint, for limits, and for humility is neither helpful to individuals and society nor, ultimately, conservative. This is particularly true with respect to the natural world.

I am wholly on board with the need for a major shift in how we think of a healthy economy, moving away from relying on throughput as the main way we test for robustness (GNP) to one that rewards the conservation of resources (achieving the greatest good with the least consumption). You might look at economist Herman Daly's, Steady-State Economics (1977), for a thorough treatment of this concept.

6. A good rule of thumb: Small and Local and Old and Particular are to be preferred over Big and Global  and New and Abstract.

You the man, Rod.

7. Appreciation of aesthetic quality —that is, beauty—is not a luxury, but key to the good life.

While I think this principle is a slippery one to hold (given that much of beauty is individually defined), I like insisting that it should have a seat at the main table.

8. The cacophony of contemporary popular culture makes it hard to discern the call of truth and wisdom. There is no area in which practicing asceticism is more important.

I take this to be a call for each of us to develop our own moral compass, followed by an admonition to not let the fickleness of pop culture deflect the needle. While I'm good with this as a general warning, I don't believe that all truth and wisdom has already been discovered and is adequately described. I don't believe that the proper role of modern humans is simply to cleave to the North Star of ancient wisdom. I think it's worthwhile to keep panning for gold in the streams of contemporary thought. For example, in my lifetime there has been an amazing amount of progress in how society thinks about race, gender, sexual orientation, and right relationship to the environment. These are not trivial shifts, and it behooves us to be open to the possibility of profundity emerging from the dross of fad.

9. We share Kirk's conviction that "the best way to rear up a new generation of friends of the Permanent Things is to beget children, and read to them o' evenings, and teach them what is worthy of praise: the wise parent is the conservator of ancient truths… The institution most essential to conserve is the family."

I'm uneasy here. Right off the top, Dreher's pro-natalist position sends chills up my spine. How can a thinking person (remember his brave claim about seeing better in point #1?) not see the train wreck between population growth and environmental degradation? Any arguments about needing to outbreed the heathens contains the same fatal flaws as the discredited nuclear policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (which, not coincidentally, bore the acronym MAD). We need a lot more babies in the world about the same as we need a lot more nuclear weapons.

Beyond that, I'm nervous about each parent being the conservator of ancient truths because it promotes closed-mindedness—which the world is already plagued with in ample amounts without further encouragement. Upon closer inspection, a fair number of ancient truths are culturally specific rather than universal (for example, contrast the plurality of Native American cosmologies with one-size-fits-all Christian cosmology). Thus, there can be awkwardness (read jihads) over which "wisdoms" are true. This can be a real goat fuck.

Finally, I'm uneasy defining family—the implication being nuclear family—as the fundamental unit of cultural construction. If (and it's possible that Dreher is OK with this, though that's not the way his book reads) we stretch the sense of family to include the concepts of extended family and even families of adults not related by blood or marriage—with which I am thoroughly familiar as a result of having immersed myself in the world of intentional community—then I'm OK. Having raised my two kids in the family-of-friends intentional community of Sandhill Farm you cannot tell me that that wasn't an excellent way to do it, so I object to Dreher's narrow-mindedness unless it embraces my experience as an option in this vein.

10. Politics and economics will not save us. If we are to be saved at all, it will be through living faithfully by the Permanent Things, preserving these ancient truths in the choices we make in everyday life. In this sense, to conserve is to create anew.

I'm fully on board with the opening sentence, then I get uneasy again. One of the fundamental lessons that comes out of my community experience is that we (as in healthy society) need to be more focused on Relationship as the prime directive, rather than Truth—and I expressly mean relationships across party lines, rather than relationships among allies as we strive to become a more effective united front against the unwashed. 

That said, Dreher's book is actually a mixed bag in this regard. While this tenth conservative insight speaks solely of Truth (which makes me squirm), his book is full of anecdotes that make clear his care and feeding of Relationships (which calms me down)—even to the point of repeatedly crossing the aisle to make common cause with neighbors and acquaintances with whom he shares some precious aspects of the good life, though not all. Bully for him.
• • •Taken all together, there is much to celebrate and be inspired by in the rich stew that Dreher has served up (with organic ingredients). I'm just not swallowing the whole bowlful.

'A giant dorm for grownups': Cohousing developments on the rise in Madison - Madison.com

Cohousing News from Google -


'A giant dorm for grownups': Cohousing developments on the rise in Madison
“My daughters tell their friends their mom is living in a commune,” laughed Kelly, who moved into Arboretum Cohousing when it was built in 2008. When a daughter came to visit, she told her mom the development seemed like “a giant dorm for grown-ups.”.

'A giant dorm for grownups': Cohousing developments on the rise in Madison - Madison.com

Cohousing News from Google -


'A giant dorm for grownups': Cohousing developments on the rise in Madison
“My daughters tell their friends their mom is living in a commune,” laughed Kelly, who moved into Arboretum Cohousing when it was built in 2008. When a daughter came to visit, she told her mom the development seemed like “a giant dorm for grown-ups.”.

and more »

Living Earth

New listings on ic.org -

Website: City: Kilauea State: Hawaii Zip: 96754 Contact Email: forestoffood@gmail.com Content Phone: Contant Name: Jonathan Pinkston

Living Earth

New listings on ic.org -

Website: City: Kilauea State: Hawaii Zip: 96754 Contact Email: forestoffood@gmail.com Content Phone: Contant Name: Jonathan Pinkston

Heart Goals and Hearth Coals

Laird's Blog -

When my wife announced last February that she no longer wanted to be my wife, I went into a tailspin. It was not what I wanted to hear and it triggered a lot of grieving.

Even though I knew that I would still be able to carry with me the results of the personal work I had done in an attempt to make the marriage work, that seemed a very slim silver lining at the time. Mostly I just felt the loss.

To be sure, being less reactive (a specific area that I've worked on in counseling the last two years) was of immediate benefit. Instead if spinning my wheels unproductively in anger (at my partner walking away unilaterally), I moved through that, and I didn't get mired in shame at having failed to make the marriage work. I was centered enough to just let the grief and sadness wash over me. I didn't try to push it away or box it up; I just rode the rapids in a swamped canoe.

As the pain subsided, I started taking stock of where I was and where I wanted to be.

Question #1: Did I still want a partner? 


Question #2: Was this urgent? 

No; I would wait for a good fit.

Question #3: What's a "good fit"?

Two weeks ago I came up with the following list of non-negotiables. I want a partner:
o  Who wants me (and welcomes my wanting her).
o  Who respects the work I do.
o  Who maintains her sense of self (and does not submerge her life into mine, nor expect me to submerge mine into hers).
o  Who will let me know when something seems off between us.
o  Who hangs in there to work out tensions and differences.

I've known for a long time that I needed to pair with a strong woman; someone who would not be knocked off center by my large bow wave. There have been moments in the past where I was not careful about that, and it didn't work well.

Question #4: What do I mean by "strong"?

Slowly, I've come to understand that strong comes in many flavors. In the past I've looked for a partner who was strong in the same ways I was: as a social change agent, a public speaker, an author, an organizer. But now, as a sadder but wiser man of 65, I can see nuance I had missed before. Instead of a firebrand (like me) I can find complementary strength in a keeper of the hearth; someone in whom the coals of home are enduring, though not incandescent. I don't need a mirror or a doppelganger if I have a partner with whom we create a whole (as opposed to a woman who, like me, can create a hole—with incisive body-piercing analysis that exposes the unworkable status quo).

In short, I could seek a synergistic relationship, instead of synonymous one. (Mind you, I am offering this analysis as a journal of my journey; not necessarily as a blueprint for others. Caveat emptor. What credentials do I have, after all, for advising others in this regard?)

Question #5: To what extent should I prioritize home in my search for partner?

In the wreckage of my marriage I also lost my home. It was a double blow. Having lived in the same zip code for 41 years I gradually developed a deep connection to place that turned out, to my surprise, to have powerful spiritual dimensions. I have come to know something of the sacred through connection to hearth and place.

This has been a complicated choreography for me. As someone who has dedicated his life to the exploration and promotion of community and cooperative culture, my calling requires that I'm on the road half the time—talking and teaching about community even as I'm not at home to enjoy it. With one foot at home and the other on the road, I was only partly in either, which strains the bonds of relationship that are the very lifeblood of community. It's been a longstanding dilemma. Home is at once a base of operation (a secure platform from which to engage with the world) and a refuge and sanctuary (which affords me much-needed renewal and groundedness).

So it's in that context that I'm unexpectedly starting over, trying simultaneously to reestablish home and to climb back on the partnership horse. For the last four decades home has been my North Star, with partnerships orbiting around its solidity, or budding from it. Now however, both elements have slipped their moorings at the same time and I'm adrift.

It's intriguing in this time of fluidity to shift how I think about my search—to contemplate a partnership that offers hearth as well as heart: to seek these two cornerstone elements as a pair. While I'm holding very different cards today than I was a year ago, there is still plenty of room for playing my hand well. Perhaps, it occurs to me now, I'll find the Queen of Hearts in the fireplace, instead of in the places of fire where I am wont to look.


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