"I found myself reading Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything non-stop, with a pencil in hand, underlining like crazy. That totally took me by surprise, but then, I didn’t know I’d be reading an astute explanation about what I’ve been feeling recently, something I couldn’t put my finger on. It’s an uncomfortable sense of how everything seems to be monetized, from our work to our personal relationships to our education to our creativity to our charity work. A sense that nothing should be attempted unless its value can be measured and brings advantage. A sense that we should be motivated by keeping up and constantly improving and optimizing ourselves, as if who we are and what we’re doing isn’t and never will be enough because there’s always something new to be achieved."
- Kassie Rose, NPR Ohio (full review here)
"Oooh, that's a beautiful bubble book!"
- Tiny Niece, age 3, while rubbing the cover over her cheek.
Or on making a book.
There's a lot of talk about the future of publishing these days. About the nature of a book. About its form and its value in an increasingly digital environment. It's quite the jungle gym out there.
As is our Hedgie nature, we think books can be winged things that carry stories and ideas to friends known and unknown. That's the nature of most things that are created to be shared - along the way they create conversations and communities.
A good book is a difficult thing to make. A good smart book filled with big ideas? And then produced and distributed independently? Well that is both difficult and a wondrous thing among us. And something I want to help out of the nest.
One of our own little Hedgies, F.S. Michaels, has produced a good smart independent book called Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything.
Here's the gist:
As human beings, we’ve always told stories: stories about who we are, where we come from, and where we’re going. Now imagine that one of those stories is taking over the others, narrowing our diversity and creating a monoculture. Because of the rise of the economic story, six areas of your world — your work, your relationships with others and the environment, your community, your physical and spiritual health, your education, and your creativity — are changing, or have already changed, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. And because how you think shapes how you act, the monoculture isn’t just changing your mind — it’s changing your life.
In Monoculture, F.S. Michaels draws on extensive research and makes surprising connections among disciplines to take a big-picture look at how one story is changing everything. Her research and writing have been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Killam Trusts, and regional and municipal arts councils. Michaels has an MBA, and lives and writes in British Columbia.
I had the opportunity to help a little in getting this book on its way. I am an unabashed fan of the writer and a wannabe builder of the conversations that will take place around these big ideas. In the meantime, during Monoculture week at the Hedge, we're going to give this winged thing a little push out of the nest. Y'all come back now...
Next week on the Hedge, it's Monoculture week - a celebration of one of our own and and her big ideas in book form. We like big ideas at the Hedge in many forms and book form is one of our favorites. In the meantime, you can catch FS Michaels on one of her writing breaks dealing with some bird adventures of her very own:
I forgot that around this time last year, the blackbirds were a real nuisance, and this year they’re at it again. They’ve built nests in the mugo pines, and now that the babies are hatching, the birds have become very aggressive – they’ll divebomb me when I’m out in the garden, even if I’m on the other side of the yard, and I’ve even seen them divebomb Red when he’s doing nothing more sinister than lying on the grass.
What to do? The babies have hatched and become fledgings, because I’ve seen them sitting on the walkway like big lumps, trying out their wings and not really going anywhere (the babies are somehow bigger than the parents at this stage). I’m hoping that they’re on their way soon, but in any case, we’re going to have to find the nests and take them down, which should be an adventure.
I’ve read that when you go after the nest, the swooping gets worse – so much so that you’re supposed to wear a hard hat, safety glasses, and long sleeves to protect yourself from beaks and claws.
Ugh. In the end, it wasn’t that bad. The Other One bravely crawled into the mugo pine and found the nest without any hat, safety glasses or long sleeves, while I sort of held the birds off with the water hose. (That didn’t work too well. I was asked to stop spraying since someone was getting all wet.)
All that commotion, and one little empty nest!
Now, with any luck, the birds will move on. Move on, birds.
No gesture or no sound
Mired in hollow ground
Like a sparrow in a cyclone
You have me spiralling around
From the 90's into the 00's, there was no harder working band in Alberta than Painting Daisies. Helmed by co-frontwomen Rachelle Van Zanten and Daisy Blue Groff, P.D. evolved from an acoustic folk duo to a four-woman juggernaut that toured seemingly non-stop, purveying passionate prairie rock across Canada, the US, and Europe before disbanding in 2005. While Van Zanten went on to release two critically acclaimed solo albums in 2006 and 2009, Blue Groff has kept a lower profile, taking time to settle into the Vancouver music scene before entering the studio to record her debut solo release, Sparrow In A Cyclone.
Ably supported by producer/engineer Joby Baker's (Alex Cuba, Cowboy Junkies) slick production, elastic bass and chunky drums, Blue Groff's voice and guitar swing effortlessly from sultry to edgy with the confidence of a seasoned performer. From the swirling electro-tinged opener Forever, Slowly and the sinuous seduction of Electric Love Song(for LA), to full-on rockers like Give Up The Ghost and Gunslinger, Sparrow possesses an engaging swagger neatly balanced by the intimate warmth of songs like Full Heart, Shrug It Off and the stripped-down voice/guitar/strings of Queen of Chain. Clocking in at less than 30 minutes, Sparrow is a compact and charming calling card that will hopefully bring some attention to Blue Groff's skill with pen, voice, and guitar.
Birds on the Wires from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.:
"Reading a newspaper, I saw a picture of birds on the electric wires. I cut out the photo and decided to make a song, using the exact location of the birds as notes (no Photoshop edit). I knew it wasn't the most original idea in the universe. I was just curious to hear what melody the birds were creating."
Photo: Robert Rock Belliveau: Tomato seed taken with a polarizing microscope
"We find a useful parable in one of the farm journals, whither we turned, hoping to escape for a few moments the ominous headlines of suspicion in the papers. It was a vain hope. The first headline we encountered was 'Danger in the Flower Garden.' There is enough poison in a single castor bean to kill a person. The seeds of pinks cause vomiting. Sweet-pea seeds contain a poison that can keep a person bedridden for months. The nightblooming jimson has enough power it its leaves to produce delirium. Daffodil bulbs when eaten cause stomach cramps. And in the lily of the valley is a subtle substance that makes the heart slow down. But the conclusion drawn by the writer of the article, chewing absently on a daffodil bulb, was a good one.
We must plant this garden anyway. Even in the face of such terrors, we must plant this garden."
E.B. White 4/24/54 The New Yorker
*quote via @planthisgarden
And my old prairie Hedge Society from a late spring years ago:
I am a lifelong Canadian and still I do not learn. Around mid-February I begin to notice the band of light on the horizon at 7:15 in the morning. Soon eight hours of winter light will turn into eight and a half hours and then nine and then ten hours of glorious daylight. The other night, I noticed the sky was actually a beautiful deepening teal blue at 7 pm rather than a navy black. I wear a t-shirt instead of a sweater inside the house as a defiant gesture to the retreating winter.
March. The very name evokes thoughts of green grass and warming breezes. When will the tulips I planted in September begin to show? When can I put the snow shovel away? But March in Canada loves to fool you. A few years ago, we received 40 cm of snow in mid-March. The temperatures are still below zero one day before Spring arrives. The t-shirt takes its place back on the shelf and I return to checking weather reports in between trying to unfreeze the front gate and wrapping myself in blankets while sitting at the computer.
My mom is visiting and we take a quick trip to the gardening store. It is quiet and empty with just a few hopeful souls breathing in the pictures on the seed packages. The vivid reds of early girl tomatoes, the purples of lobelia, the oranges of tiger lilies and pastels of sweet peas swirl before us like an impressionist painting. When I drive home, heater on high, mittens gripping the frozen steering wheel, I turn down a back alley near the house. We crack open the frosted windows ever so slightly so we can hear the tiny birds that are hiding in the skeletons of lilac bushes. They sing and sing wearing down the fraying ends of winter, coaxing the warmth of spring to appear.
I first saw the 6 Billion Others project in a bookstore, as a book. (That may be why it was in a bookstore.) Six directors filmed 5,000 interviews in 75 countries, asking people forty or so questions to get at what brings us together and keeps us apart. The result is a portait of humanity across the globe.
Aside from what's in the book, you can watch twenty- to forty-five-minute Youtube compilations of those interviews on topics like love, God, happiness, fears, forgiveness, the meaning of life, and war. Here are a few to get you started.
In the face of horrific events, I tend to go quiet. I watch along with the rest of the world but I don't feel that I have much to add. Online life does not do well with quiet. We're supposed to always be looking for ten-ways-to-shout-louder-than-others-here or find-success-like-dooce there. I tend to step back. Tweet a few things that informed me. Like how a nuclear reactor works. I had no idea.
I wait for the regular tragedy cycle. Shock and awe. Commentary. Stupidity - that US network that chose to add frantic drumming over video of the tsunami because the footage wasn't dramatic enough for them. The religious chatterers of all stripes who think they have the direct line to shifting rock and the voice of gods. The need to know so we can feel some sort of control over those gods. And men. And atoms. All while living on a planet that shakes itself silly while spinning through space.
It's been a while since I've thought of the voice of God in the midst of a tragedy but I was thinking of all this a few years ago when the combination of human imperfection and natural forces heaved themselves onto the shores of southern States. As I walked through my quiet neighborhood, I could hear Mary Gauthier's voice. She wrote a song, Wheel Inside The Wheel, about a funeral in New Orleans. I saw her at a folk festival - too early in the morning and in the pouring rain. As the audience took shelter as best we could - hats, rain ponchos made from hastily torn garbage bags, Mary said "You're impressing the hell outta me." We shouted our encouragement, our breath showing in the morning air and then rolling upwards with the collected cigarette smoke and coffee fumes into the falling rain.
She told us she wanted to write a song for a friend, a songwriting friend, that had died. She felt unworthy to write a song for someone who had such incredible skill so she asked God, "Lord, what should I do?" And God said, "Go to New Orleans! Go to New Orleans! Go to New Orleans!" And Mary said, "Shit God. Don't speak to me directly. You're scarin' me."
Those are the words I heard step after step on my clean and dry sidewalks...New Orleans, New Orleans, New Orleans. And now on currently not-so terra firma, my keyboard and all of us chattering away trying to avoid the tremors beneath our feet. Shit God. Don't speak to me directly. You're scarin' me.
In her upcoming book, Monoculture: How One Story Is Changing Everything, our very own FS Michaels discusses how economic thought has infiltrated the world of art. She quotes Stephen Weil, a leading commentator on museums:
If a million people a month would pay three dollars to see, for example, a Matisse exhibition, we would not need financial support. And if we deliberately set out to find out what a million people a month would pay three dollars to see, then we would not be museums anymore – we would be Disneyland.
Michaels points out that in a world where artists are seen as entrepreneurs, art is no longer about offering challenge or critique, but regurgitating what people want to see or hear. After all, as the eternal maxim of business states, the customer is always right. And after years of this being trumpeted as truth, the public has come to believe it and to dare to challenge their taste is to invite revolt.
Case in point is the the backlash against Arcade Fire's recent Grammy Award for Best Album. Who Is Arcade Fire??!!? has collected some of the hyperbolic vitriol directed at the judges for daring to momentarily consider something other than popularity as the chief mark of artistic validity. While I freely admit to being amused by Unhappy Hipsters, and not connecting with a fair number of the albums on Pitchfork's Top 50 albums of 2010, I find myself both chuckling and taken aback at this strange mix of claimed populism, anti-hipsterism, and disbelief that anything could be good without mass market validation. It's an entertaining and troubling glimpse into some modern attitudes about art, and how personally some people take it when they are denied affirmation of their taste in consumption. Apparently there are plenty who prefer mouse-ears over Matisse.
From KR Wolfe: FS Michaels is one of our very own Hedgies. If you'd like to get first dibs on the upcoming Monoculture website, conversations, and book, you can leave a "Let me know" in the comments and we'll notify you when she flips the "On!" switch. It's a really good book.
See, I don't hate all birds. I am rather fond of ducks. Especially ducks who are struggling professional photograhers.