Monday, April 7, 2008

BOOK: Deep Economy--so good my friends wouldn’t share

Two friends/colleagues for whom I have great respect told me to read this book within about, oh four hours of one another.

"Amazing," one said.

"It's been a really long time since I could definitively say a book changed my life. You must read this," the other said.

"Loan me your copy," I said.

"Get your own!" they both said.

Well okay then. I trudged on over to Village Books, the Bellingham indy book store (insert longing sniffle), and I can now safely say I was taken by this read as they were. I am also feeling a small pang of regret that I passed my copy on excitedly to a friend and will likely never see it again. I'd like to read it again, and again. It's one of those books where you could do that, and learn something new each time.

The underlying premise of the read is that our over productized, mass produced, glutton for anything bigger, badder, cheaper mode of operating our economy is essentially killing off our sense of community. And our penchant for consumption and all things "Made in China!" will eventually kill off our economy as we know it.

Sounds really depressing, and on a lot of levels, it is. But McKibben writes this thing in such an upbeat manner that you can read about the gutting of a small community and yet at the same time feel a great deal of hope as you learn about a coop community garden built atop a former dump.

The advocacy of communities whereby we can depend on one another struck a chord with me. When I read this book, I was living in Bellingham, WA and had what I would consider to be a small handful of people in my tribe. After three years of struggling to find my "place" in the Pacific Northwest, and trying quite unsuccessfully to juggle being a single parent, a relationship that I wanted desperately to succeed, and at the same time climbing the corporate ladder, I decided one day shortly after reading this book, to quit.

I quit my relationship, I quit my job (or tried to), packed a trailer full of my stuff, put my house on the market, and moved back to Iowa. Now I cannot say that I read the book, "jumped off the dock and started swimming," as my friend Mike says. I don't even know if I had a conscious thought that the book had some sort of link in my process.

I do know that I had such a desire for the community that I once had in the Midwest, and that did drive my decision to move back to Iowa. Of course now in hindsight, I know I failed to recognize through the fog of my failed relationship that on a lot of levels I had developed in Washington a quiet group of people who were most definitely, in my corner. It just looked different from what I'd grown to expect, and I desperately wanted the comfort of my Midwestern people back as I mourned the end/loss of something very significant.

In short, I needed to know that when proverbial shit hit the fan, I could show up at my friend's house and throw myself on his couch. I needed to know that in my doing this, he wouldn't bat an eye or find it unusual, he would wrap me up in one of his hugs, pour me a large glass of wine, and proceed to make fun of me until I laughed at myself. I needed to know that when I got caught late in a meeting, I could call someone to bail me out and pick up my son. And while I had blueberries and cherries and apples and pears and grapes and plums all falling from their limbs in my Washington yard, I wanted a few goddamned good tomatoes and some "real" sweet corn each July. I wanted to go to the grocery store and see someone I knew. I wanted crunchy leaves in Fall, not soggy ones. I wanted to get pulled over for speeding and have the cop be some guy I used to babysit for, and get let off with a warning.

I longed for my son to grow up near his cousins as I had mine. I longed for him ride in the combine at harvest with my 80 year old Grandpa. I wanted him to understand this landscape; this gutted, flat, former prairie land of wide open sky and killer sunsets. I wanted my brother to take my son hunting; teach him to track a bird. And I wanted my dad to teach him to swing his bat. And when my son started acting like a little shit, I wanted someone in town to rat him out.
It was not easy to stand up and leave what I'd spent three painstaking years building, behind. First there was my relationship with a man as tied to the Northest rain, fog, solitude, and muddy roots poking from the green, mossy mountainside as I am to my corn on the cob. I knew from the beginning, that he wasn't going anywhere and the time I spent with him there only underscored this notion. I simply knew that if I left, he would stay. Yet we loved one another desperately and fought like hell to make one square peg fit into one round hole, and all the while I continued to struggle to make sense of things, he continued to love me. I will forever love this man for his patience, and most of all for allowing me to peer inside and hold what I believe to be among the most innocent and pure of souls.

I was successful in the Northwest, perhaps too successful at my stint in high tech corporate America. I worked for amazing, understanding people, but each day I felt torn. Torn between being a mom, accepting the next promotion and knowing that I would only be half present even as I sat at dinner with my son. Knowing that sooner or later I would be traveling and miss his games. Or that I would be traveling to one of our offices soon and...what on earth would I do with him then? As someone who finds a great deal of comfort in the landscape, it was not easy to leave behind snowboarding within an hour, a mountain devoted to biking, a bounty of fresh fish, a house with a half acre of fruit, a view of the Mt. Baker from my couch, and some of the most inspiring road rides I've ridden along the Puget Sound coast. And it nearly brings a tear to my eye thinking of my long lost, Bikram yoga studio. But I did it, I quit.

In the wake of his own personal tragedy, my ex- (who was also Midwestern bred) lamented one night nearly a year ago now that he too, longed for the sense of community he recalled from his younger days living in the Midwest.

"You know," he said thoughtfully, "In Iowa, it seemed that when something bad happened, people just came over and started doing things to help. They didn't wait for you to ask, or to figure out for yourself what it was that you needed; they just did things that were helpful--cooked dinner, scooped your snow, whatever they could think of. And here in the Northwest, there are plenty of people who would help, but they assume that you will ask if you need something. And if you don't, well, then they will assume you are fine."

This is essentially the best way I can illustrate my understanding of this new economy...the one where you help without being asked. This community is the one McKibben advocates in this book. A simple return to our roots; giving, interacting with and knowing our neighbors, buying from them when you can, slowing down the madness, and quite simply taking care of one another. Remarkably he succeeds in finding small pockets of this community based goodness all throughout the world.

And I am happy to report that I have once again found mine.

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