Recently, I watched Urban Roots, a documentary on the urban agriculture movement in Detroit, Michigan. The film was released in 2011, just as the Motor City approached the height of its fiscal and governmental crisis. The state of Michigan assumed control of the city in 2012, and the city declared bankruptcy in 2013.
When my wife and I purchased our home several years ago, we found ourselves faced with a multitude of immediate and long-term repairs and projects. Our new home was over a century old with beautiful interior flourishes and the proverbial “good bones.” Although we lived in a lovely remodeled apartment during the first three years of our marriage, this was our first true home. Building a home for our shared future invigorated and inspired us.
One of our first projects was to transform the weedy, hard dirt patch behind our house into a proper backyard. I quickly discovered my latent passion for gardening, likely inherited from my paternal grandmother. I read books, websites, and blogs about gardening, homesteading, and simple living. The long recent recession and the evisceration of the middle class have led to a renewed interest in such hobbies and skills throughout America. We’re rediscovering our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ home economics and tricks for stretching the budget and the larder.
My interests in gardening and simple living dovetail with natural foods, health, and a distrust of global corporations. To put it mildly, I find myself uncomfortable with the constant barrage of advertising and media surrounding us and the steady praise of consumption in our society. I try to lead a simple life. Just like every mortal, I am a bundle of contractions, failings, and hypocrisies. Nonetheless, my research included watching documentaries about the Amish, delving into novels set in a candy-coated future after technological collapse, and perusing websites spinning comical predictions and conspiracy theories.
The Brainery is a fascinating place. Most nights, and sometimes twice per night, the Brainery offers classes and lectures for a low cost. The subjects range from the erudite to the outright obscure. Interested in home-brewing? There might be a class. Interested in contemporary Australian parliamentary politics? There might be a class. Interested in iconic perfume bottles? There might be class.
At first blush, the Brainery seems to offer the over-educated, creative denizens of New York something new and quirky; however, the model is old and tested. Lectures were a popular mainstay of intellectual and public life of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most notably the Chautauqua movement. Aspiring citizens from all educational and economic segments of society attended such events to expand their minds, build an understanding of the arts, and learn about the world beyond their own tiny corners of America. Education and cultural enrichment were valued. A grasp of current affairs, scientific discoveries, and literature stood as a sign that one seriously embraced his (or her) role as a responsible, respectable citizen of the republic. How much our society has changed. Continue reading
Last summer, I happened across a decade-old book, Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende. This volume appears to be Mr. Brende’s sole publishing credit; in fact, he seems to have embraced the philosophy explored by his work and effectively constructed a life beyond the parameters of the internet and the computer age. He does not maintain a website, a Twitter feed, or an Instagram account. Brende seems to have “flipped the switch.”
Several weeks ago, I dedicated not one but two posts to Self and Soul and its thoughts on searching for the good or ideal life. Better Off is a similar book, stirring up similar musings. What is the good life? This question has bedeviled saints, philosophers, artists, and writers since the dawn of recorded thought. Both Aristotle and Socrates punched at the question. Every man or women likely ponders the question at different moments throughout their lives.