Launch from the Lawn: A new book, a book tour, and another Fourth of July
Saturday morning, I cut the grass. Time to think. Lawns are a microcosm of culture: managed, monetized, mechanized, monocultural media of unminded conspicuous consumption. Thorstein Veblen would say even more.
As one whose feelings come out in words and music, I can only report on how culture makes me feel. Processing plants of all kinds—except for real plants—work on specialization, through-put, sampling and correction, unit-design and replication, efficiencies of scale, automation, and just-in-time expediting, inventory, and delivery. What appeals to us in making battleships or bottlecaps in this way is the possibility of arranging our personal and social lives in the same way. Such engineered practices have a long history but the current culture of immediate communication seems to offer the greatest possibility that humans have ever had to create such a society and standard of personal life. Nazism could only go so far; now we have the internet.
Speaking of plants, and back to grass-cutting, I suppose that one could argue that cellular organization is like a factory. That’s how we teach it: a cytochrome system is like an assembly line, for example. But don’t we use such analogies to simplify events so interdependent and intimately responsive that we have no conceivable equivalents? Were humans as adeptly responsive to their surroundings—and their surroundings as exquisitely suited to them—as organelles in a cytoplasmic matrix, our grasp of our experience would be within a different frame of reference. Certainly, we would not need to refer to factories. We’re not there yet.
As one who is suited to making words and music, I simply watch the robins descend on the lawn to do their work and return to my studio to do my own work. Maybe in comparison to someone with ten talents, like Geoffrey Hill (See Paul Batchelor’s review in the current Poetry.), my single talent is minimal. I prefer to think that each of us is singular and our talents are not units but powers of ten.
So, with the lawn finally cut for the Fourth, I’m finally ready to put up information about the new book, the book tour, and—
Oh, I didn’t mention Ted Steinberg’s book, American Green, about our obsession with lawns. This source and others claim that 2-4-D, glyphosate, chlorpyrifos, and other residues affect us and our pets in various ways. Other sources make different claims. I discussed most of this in an earlier blog (See https://frameshifts.com/2016/03/ ), but am buoyed by encouraging words from Pope Francis in A Man of His Word and Fred Rogers in Won’t you be my neighbor? Fred said that his work and ours is Tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase meaning “repair of the world.” ( BTW, The modern understanding of this phrase is more expansive than the original meaning.)
More generally, the Lawn As Microcosm of Culture is an example of a deep confrontation that has little to do with blue and red politics. Is life concerned with perfecting the customization of the world to human beings or with humans working on themselves to become more adept at adaptation and accommodation to the world and to others? Are family meals, for example, about “what would you like, honey?” or are they about learning to share the same food—which is to say, to share a common life? Is civilization better characterized by enthusiasts proposing the Anthropocene, the Free Market, or the Half Earth? Questions not for philosophers but parents.
Just as parenthood may be defined as the time to discover one’s principles and to learn to practice them, so adulthood may be defined as the time to live into one’s human responsibility and learn to practice life. Saying “to practice life” is a way of hinting that one works on oneself to approach life intentionally rather than to assume that life only happens to you. Part of that practice is finding out what you’re suited for and working on it.
Even if it’s the power of one talent, you are acting responsibly.
Even if it’s as corny as my new video for July 4. (See https://youtu.be/aS5AsjLSlVc )
Even if it’s writing and promoting a book of poems, like Coming Around, and starting a book tour with a podcast interview by Ben Krumwiede and Dominique James of WRIR, airing at 11 a.m. on July 23, 2018, which will thereafter be available online at proseandcons.org.
Even if it’s like my coming presentations at BookPeople (See: https://www.facebook.com/Book-People-Richmond-127783920585870/ ) and other places, as advertised on this site. (See Coming Events at https://wordpress.com/page/frameshifts.com/793 )
The practice of life: it’s all about rehearsals. It’s about working in your own studio to master your own materials first, so that your own experience may speak. As my blog’s side-bar says, “you are not obliged to be admired… just don’t stand pat.” We may not all have the high exponential power of Fred Rogers or Pope Francis, but each of us is a singularity. As Fred repeated daily, “there is no one else like you.”
Meanwhile, if you’re planning a July 4th lunch on the lawn, please use a blanket.