Thoughts on Literature, Food, Faith and the Subversive Power of Living Small

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The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel
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Signs of Spring in Livingston, MT

Sandhill cranes flying over the dog park in the morning. One pair. Clacking. The 2 year old bird dog loses his mind and chases after them for ten minutes.

Marks In and Out is open again -- authentic 1950s drive in, white tiles so clean you could do surgery on them, and the best authentic cheeseburgers made with locally grown and processed meat. A cheeseburger you don't have to feel guilty about. And for 2 bucks, no less.

Bare root roses for the garden -- 2 Yellow Persians, 2 Fairy Pinks, 2 Therese de Buget

posted by Charlotte at 4/05/2003 04:55:00 PM


Fourteen Precepts in Fifteen Days: Day Thirteen

Twelfth: Do not kill. Do not let others kill. FInd whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war.
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Well that's pretty clear, isn't it? Simple. Clear. Directive. Note that there's no "but if ... then it's okay" clause.

If you haven't seen The Onion's take on this precept, it's available here: God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule. (Just because we're talking about something important, doesn't mean we can't be funny.)

posted by Charlotte at 4/04/2003 07:54:00 AM


Fourteen Precepts in Fifteen Days

Eleventh: Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. Do not invest in companies that deprive others of their chance to life. Select a vocation which helps realize your goal of compassion.
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh

I love the idea of vocation. Of course, growing up Catholic, the word always had a certain sotto voce cachet (especially in my materialistic, wealthy suburb) he thinks he might have a vocation. And for me it carried directly over into the idea of writing, of being a writer. My first literary love was Joyce, specifically Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and I used to whisper under my breath Joyce's ringing exhortation to "go forth and forge out of the smithy of my soul, the uncreated conscience of my race." Talismanic words. From the beginning, I saw becoming a writer as a vocation, as a cause to spend my life upon. Preparing to move last summer, I went through and organized all my old journals, journals I hadn't looked at in years, and there I was, at eighteen, nineteen, ablaze with passion for words, copying out enormous chunks of novels and poems, copying them into books, copying them onto bits of paper I'd pin to my walls, holding these talismans as if to convince myself not only that writing was a noble vocation, but that it could be mine. It was both endearing and embarassing, but mostly endearing.

The idea of vocation, of a life-long passion, a life-long project to which one is dedicated is, like living small, a somewhat heretical concept in "modern America" -- we're all supposed to be flexible, to mutlitask, to be willing to move across country for a job, to be continually trading up, whether it's houses or spouses or possessions. We're supposed only to care about money. Well, we're supposed to care about our families too, but that care is supposed to manifest itself as material things we buy for them. It's one of the things that makes "normal" America a real mystery to me. Do people really care that much about stuff? Can the pursuit of stuff really be so interesting as to consume a life? What are their inner lives like, those blond women in their SUVs speeding through the the parking lot of Whole Foods in San Ramon? I suppose if I was a more imaginative writer, I could make that the subject of my next novel.

Out here in the lefty blogosphere, writing about this precept feels like preaching to the choir. Look at the list of links to the right, there isn't a one of them who is blogging about getting more stuff. If we were dedicated to piling up wealth, we certainly wouldn't all have time to keep blogging for one another. We wouldn't all be out here questioning our government during a time of war, trying to keep one another's spirits up. Blogging as vocation? Something to think about.

posted by Charlotte at 4/03/2003 07:49:00 AM


Fourteen Precepts in Fifteen Days

Tenth: Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community into a political party. A religious community should, however, take a clear stand against oppression and injustice, and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh

I don't have a whole lot to say about this one since I'm not really a member of a Buddhist community. However, I do think the admonition to strive to change a situation without engaging in partisan conflicts is particualry apt, and particularly difficult. Which is one way of saying that I'm still failing in my quest to send lovingkindness thoughts to Bush, Rumsfeld, etc. In fact, I still can't watch them without without muting the television.

posted by Charlotte at 4/02/2003 12:11:00 PM


Forsythia and chickens

It was sort of a crappy day here in Montana ... weather looming, dogs digging up the weed-barrier-cloth I laid around the soon-to-be-raised-beds and shredding it all over the yard, and I was just off all day. So I did what all good Americans do when feeling out of sorts, I got in the car, drove to Bozeman, and went shopping.

But what I love about living here is that shopping includes stops like the Big R Ranch & Home Supply where you can buy everything from clothes to dog food to garden supplies to Bantam Chickens. I want chickens so badly, but I think I have to wait until next year. I don't have a chicken coop yet, and I think it's probably unfair to the baby bird dog to torment him with chickens at this point. But looking in the bin at the Polish Crested, Golden Laced Wyandottes, and Blue Cochin chicks, I really really wanted to buy a handful of each and bring them home to peck in my yard all summer. Next year ...

So the next stop was Cashman Nusery where I bought some more seed flats, some sweet pea seed and innoculant, and a forsythia bush. Well, it's a bare-root plant, so it's hardly a bush at this point. It's more like a forsythia twig. A forsythia twig with roots. But give it a couple of years, and where that messy wild clemantis used to be in the corner of the yard, there will be a big open forsythia, heralding spring each year with sprays of yellow blossoms.

posted by Charlotte at 4/01/2003 05:58:00 PM

Fourteen Precepts in Fifteen Days

Ninth: Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things that you are not sure of. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh

LivingSmall would like to use this precept as a chance to thank Sean-Paul Kelly over at The Agonist for providing unvarnished news as it comes through, for doing his best not to "spread news that he does not know to be certain," and for moderating the comments and bulletin board sections of his site so that those who only seek to "utter words that cause division and hatred" get banned. I know I'm not the only one he's keeping sane with his clear, unvarnished news feed. Be kind to Sean-Paul and use one of the mirror sites located here, here, here, and here.

posted by Charlotte at 4/01/2003 11:06:00 AM


Fourteen Precepts in Fifteen Days

Eighth: Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh

A few weeks ago, my brother went down to Gardiner, which is one of the northern entrances to Yellowstone National Park, with our friend Bill to check out a demonstration. The protesters were there to register their disagreement with the current policy of slaughtering buffalo who cross the park boundary into Montana every winter, usually in search of forage. Because Montana is certified as a "brucellosis-free" state, the cattle industry here is insistent that the Yellowstone herd, some of whom carry brucellosis, be prevented from mingling with Montana cattle. Bill was there to take photos, since that's what he does for a living, and Patrick was just hanging out.

So as my brother is hanging out, leaning against the truck, watching the demonstrators, an older woman came up to him and screamed "F*ck you! F*ck you, assh*le! Stop the killing!" Patrick was somewhat taken aback, because as he told me later, she looked like someone's granny, and the profanity and the hostility coming out of her mouth, both rocked him back on his heels and made him want to laugh at her. She didn't help her cause at all, she just made them ridiculous. We've actually been talking about this old lady for a couple of weeks, both as we watch demos on tv, and as we watch our President and his cronies get more and more entrenched in their own bully-pulpit positions.

In his commentary on this precept, Thich Nhat Hanh says: "This precept is about reconciliation ... In order to reconcile a conflict, we have to be in touch with both sides ... to listen to both sides and understand." When everyone's shouting, no one is listening. And it's tempting to shout. I grew up in a family of shouters, and there's a kind of relief when you're deep in the thick of it, having a big emotional scene, shouting and crying and so convinced that you are right and the other person is not only wrong, but unjustifiably wrong. But it doesn't get you anywhere. It's like the old lady screaming obscenities, the old lady who has become a symbol in our household for ridiculous anger. In that I guess she serves a certain defusing kind of purpose. At this point, if Patrick or I look at one another and say "F*ck you, assh*le" in a little-old-lady voice, it's certain to cause one, if not both of us to start laughing. So that's something.

posted by Charlotte at 3/31/2003 07:46:00 AM


Fourteen Precepts in Fifteen Days

Seventh: Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Learn to practice breathing in order to regain compuosure of body and mind, to practice mindfulness, and to develop concentration and understanding.
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh

My friend Wendy, sent me an email yesterday asking if the next precept was about not intoxicating oneself and others, and lo and behold, yes, I think you could read this one that way. Friday night was great fun, and there's something to be said for the Dionysian impulse, particularly when one small, winterbound town seems to all come out at once to celebrate our communal joy that spring has once again come around, but on the other hand, at least when I get in that space, I stop actually paying attention to what anyone is saying and wind up in the land of blah blah blah blah blah. That space where you chat people up, and become entertaining and funny, and yet, the next morning you realize that none of those conversations stuck. That they all just flew off into the ozone because you weren't being mindful. Because you weren't actually paying attention.

posted by Charlotte at 3/30/2003 05:28:00 PM


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