- Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
- The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin
- Finalizing the outline and drafting the second volume of Foggy Weather, my urban fantasy detective series
- Sketching out a more “literary” tragic novel set in a peri-apocalyptic world
- Working out sketches for short stories/novellas
- A screed about “knowing” writing (and I do mean “screed” – I’ve toned it down a bit, but whatever ends up posted here will still likely depart from my more typical even tones.)
Currently thinking about:
- Robert Anton Wilson’s body of work, specifically his Quantum Psychology and how much I’d like to run a workshop on it
- Fungal hyphae as a metaphor or analogy for descansos, roadside memorial crosses common here in New Mexico
- The similarities between German and English and how well Duolingo actually works
- Installing rain barrels and preparing for Spring and the growing season
After a hiatus longer than I intended, I’ve now found my way back to the Workshop. The Spring 2022 semester has well and truly started, so I’ve started classes again. This semester I have German for Reading and three hours of independent study, which means my classes don’t keep me on campus too late in the day and, as of right now, don’t have much in the way of hard deadlines. I’ll start auditing a Symbolic Logic course in the second half of the semester after Spring Break, which will demand more of my time, but for right now my schedule doesn’t weigh too heavily on me.
The Religious Studies department renewed my contract as a Graduate Assistant this semester, so I’ve started back with that as well. Part of my job consists of holding office hours and I’ve scheduled them in the mornings, when I tend to find myself most productive in terms of writing. I don’t anticipate getting too many visitors, so hopefully I’ll have plenty of time to write. I’ve found that writing in smallish chunks of an hour or two at a time works best for me, especially when I can feel like I’ve gotten away with something by writing on “company time,” whether during my office hours or while at work in the library.
At home, I’ve begun preparing to transform our yard and plant a garden. I have big long-term plans for the outdoor space we have, but I’ve gotten hung up in the past on trying to do everything all at once. For now, I’ve started gathering materials and determining what pieces of equipment to buy/make/acquire that will serve me the most flexibly. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer describes her childhood characterized by the old Depression adage: “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” I like that, although I would qualify the adage to include something about this only holding true in sombunal* cases, rather than as a universal rule. I’ve also found myself exploring some of the DIY corners of YouTube for ideas on planning and maintaining a garden as well as instructions for making repairs to our house.
[*: Robert Anton Wilson coins the term “sombunal” in his writing as a way of saying, “some but not all.” I’ve recently made an effort to use this term, if only mentally, in my thoughts and conversations and have found the effects quite interesting.]
These explorations have led me to adopt a strategy that I think will serve well in the long term (because I want to stay in this house, dammit). I’ve listed my general principles, as well as (some of) their qualifications, below:
- If you can make it, don’t buy it
- (unless there is a particular product with a proven track record, that doesn’t cost too much, and will act as a “force multiplier” for other scrounged, repurposed, etc. objects. For example, a manufactured rainwater diverter for gutter downspouts. I could make several from lengths of diverter out of swimming pool hose and PVC, but I don’t want to fuss around with removing or damaging our perfectly good gutters. Since I can easily find repurposed blue food-safe barrels to use as containers, I don’t have a problem with buying the diverter kits they provide a more reliable means by which the water actually gets into the barrels.)
- Invest in good tools that will last a long time
- (investing in and maintaining good tools will cost more initially, but over time will end up obviating the need to replace crummy tools, making workflow easier and reducing long-term costs. Maintaining one’s tools also serves as good practice for a more general attitude of maintaining and taking care of others and world in general. Think of it as a kind of concrete practice that encourages a general inclination.)
- Resist designs that have no “give” or flexibility
- (fortunately we have a relatively large yard. I had originally thought of building raised beds, but now rather think I’ll try double-dug beds in the soil (after amending the sand), with light barriers of brick to distinguish them from the stepping-on parts of the garden. I may eventually make some raised beds to place on the parts of our yard covered in concrete, but I don’t want to commit time and materials to an unnecessary project.)
- Work with the environment and landscape, rather than against it
- We have sandy soil, gravel all over our front yard, and a weirdly shaped lot. While I could break my back getting all the gravel moved out and dumping mulch over the entire yard, I don’t have the money, time, or physical stamina to get this all done in a weekend or so. Instead, I plan to consider where I might want the gravel to stay and where I could repurpose the gravel elsewhere before listing it on Craigslist for free.
- Water scarcity presents a problem globally, but here in Albuquerque it really does represent a scarce resource. I’ve decided to prioritize rainwater storage and take into account even before I really get down to planting so that I can take advantage of the sparse rains and save on using city water. I plan to use topography and things like swales, sunken beds, mulching and retaining walls to save on water as well. And, of course, I don’t intend to plant really thirsty plants.
- Finally, don’t waste energy, and only start what you can finish
- Since my days in the Boy Scouts I’ve heard the adage, “work smart, not hard.” Two years + of pandemic living has taken its toll on my physical stamina, so I can’t spend the whole day shoveling stone and lifting heavy things. Instead, I’ve decided to break up my larger vision into a series of modular, smaller projects I can complete over a weekend or so that will 1) help me get in better shape slowly over time, and 2) keep the yard looking nice while I work. I always hate the “making a mess” part that comes before cleaning up a mess, and I hope this principle will mitigate some of that.
I should clarify that I don’t identify as a “prepper,” nor do I adopt a DIY ethos without any qualifications. While I have respect for those who do – and for the incredible things they build – I find that acting on principles without any qualifications, principles for their own sake, does not suit me. I have no intention of becoming “self-reliant” or “self-sufficient,” and though I find taking measures to reduce one’s reliance on commercial infrastructures laudable, I don’t think one can actually do this completely in any “strong” sense. In fact, the tragic novel I began outlining yesterday takes up precisely this theme of self-reliance and its tragic consequences if taken to its logical conclusions. While I’ve recently begun limiting the number of categorical statements I make, in the interest of my sanity, I would agree with Judith Butler’s line in her recent book on violence that, “strictly speaking, no one feeds themself.”
Kimmerer would doubtless agree with this sentiment, and would even take it one step further by arguing that the group “those who feed us” need not stop at human farmers, parents, distribution systems, grocery clerks, etc. but should rather expand to include the animals and plants whose bodies we consume. I found myself reluctant, when I began reading her book, to go along with the idea of plants and non-human animals as “people,” but my recent re-reading of Wilson’s Quantum Psychology has convinced me to take this thought on as an experiment. What happens when we make an effort to think of the green onions we see in the produce section of the grocery store as people with whom we have a reciprocal relationship? Like my mention of developing an attitude of maintenance, I don’t think we need to go around with the idea of other species as people like us constantly at the forefront of our mind, but periodically asking this question may nonetheless lead to interesting results.
Thus concludes this week’s Report from the Workshop. – Krumholz