Finally got on the bike yesterday- it felt amazing and the neighborhood is growing and changing. I stalked the hallet’s cove boat launch and the two coves community garden, dreaming of summer.
Have I told you how I feel about the Bronx? I am smitten. So I signed up for the annual community gardening conference and strong armed my lifelong friend Siena into accompanying me. This was a bit nuts due to a) Saturday, b)all I do all week is sit in meetings and attend conferences and summits, c)we got four inches of snow last night.
“Two centuries ago, our forebears would have known the precised history and origin of nearly every one of the limited number of things they ate and owned, as well as of the people and tools involved in their production. They were acquainted with the pig, the carpenter, the weaver, the loom and the dairymaid. The range of items available for purchase may have grwon exponentially since then, but our understanding of their genesis has diminished almost to the point of obscurity. We are now as imaginatively disconnected from the manufacture and distribution of our goods as we are practically in reach of them, a process of alienation which has stripped us of myriad opportunities for wonder, gratitude and guilt.”
De Botton is an excellent writer who attempts to bring out all of those feelings through careful observation of the ubiquitous but generally ignored world of work. He studied bullshit jobs and attempts to bring them and those who have them back into a meaningful humanized scale. No easy task.
Workers were occupied with the ancient task of trying to stay alive, which simply happened to require, in a consumer economy overwhelmingly based on the satisfaction of peripheral desires, a series of activities all too easily confused with clownishness.
I am struggling with the meaning of labor that involves an extraordinary amount of sitting and talking and very few moments in each day that help another person in a concrete way. My work is happily part of a great institution in which I believe, which is a comfort. But joining the middle managerial class means that my actual tasks tend to be obscure.
In other news, I was delighted to spot a woman on the seven train reading a library copy of the book Early Retirement Extreme. I clumsily struck up a conversation and we passed a few cheerful minutes comparing our DIY haircuts. She invited me to go to a MMM meetup to connect with more frugal New Yorkers. It’s nice to know there are people all around who are thinking through the same ideas.
The boat club has a book club that I was too shy to attend but I’ve been reading along with some of their nautical non-fiction selections. Heartbeats in the Muck: The History, Sea Life and Environment of New York Harbor by John Waldman is a surprising and hopeful book. It retells the story of the harbor and its wildlife and the city that grew around it through a series of interactions with the weirdos who love it and are working to improve the water quality.
In a week when we’ve heard about demon snowballs of flushed “wet wipes” overwhelming the New York sewers, it is especially appropriate to consider the harbor where so much of our waste ends up. I moved to the City for the first time in 2002 and I had no idea how different it truly was from the New York my father grew up in and left as soon as he could. Williamsburg was in the process of transforming its waterfront into a luxury neighborhood where water access meant improved property values. After centuries of turning our backs on the Harbor and the short decades since the transformative Clean Water Act, it was now possible to consider having a picnic on the banks of the East River.
This book is hopeful because our health and the health of our waterways are so much improved by better sanitation and increasing understanding of the closed nature of our ecosystems. None of our chemical or biological waste ever truly goes away and we have begun to reckon with it.
I know I started strong last year with my arborphilia and then tapered off. Like many other things, tree care was lost in a wave of other responsibilities and commitments that I can’t remember now. But listen, this year I registered for the official pruning LICENSE. This is exciting for several reasons.
Firstly, it is a class. A five week class that takes place almost in my neighborhood- at the Bohemian Hall, a local institution. I am good at classes and I like them. I haven’t taken a multisession class in more than five years, and learning things = happiness.
Secondly, it is a license. The license is good for five years and my understanding is that it entitles you to come to the aid of any tree you encounter in public space in NYC. Authority and freedom to meddle- very empowering.
Thirdly, meeting the neighbors! During the class and while caring for neighborhood trees, I imagine there will be many opportunities to connect with my community. I like that.
We made it! Friday! Woot! If you are ever looking for my cubicle- look for the tiara that Miranda made me. Can’t miss it.
After my grumpy revelations about car culture, I got some sleep and settled in to work and home. Unfortunately my meeting docket made it impractical for me to attend the rally for a park in Greenpoint yesterday. Although I am committed to reading and public libraries, I am a bit more fired up lately about ecology and reclaiming public space. Mussels! Oysters! Wading birds! Clean air!
Also, I’m still mulling over Mrs. Frugalwoods’ post How I let go of caring what other people think which inspired some of my post about not fitting in. Why do grown women have to think so deeply about what shoes they wear to a meeting? What happens if we stop? MMM’s approach is to build an alternate community where different choices are mainstream.
I’m reading a great book about New York Harbor (which I will likely review on my travel site this weekend) called Heartbeats in the Muck. We have come a long way in a short time, turning our attitude around about how we treat our local waterways. There is much more to be done, but it is no longer acceptable to use the river as an open sewer or shoot sharks in the Gowanus Canal. I’m eager to get out on the water with the Boat Club. Last summer I got caught up in a new job (and I was scared of paddling with strangers) but this year I will not be deterred.