Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ownership and Repair (4/13

Dear all,
    Even with so many hard and worrisome things in the world, there is much I find to be thankful for.  April is one of my favorite months, and it couldn't be more lovely.  All is well with our family, and an unexpected bout of sickness is giving me time to catch up and be in touch.
    This month, my offering is a revelation about ownership and repair, a spring love poem, a tiny digestible bit of economics, and, as always, some things that have made my hopeful.  I hope you find it nourishing.

Ownership and repair

I have been puzzled over the years by how tenacious I get in mending torn and broken possessions.  Sometimes it seems ridiculous.  Why not, for goodness sake, just throw them out and get something that will work?

It has occurred to me that the issue is one of relationship and service.  When I buy something new, it serves me.  I am in the relationship of master or mistress to that possession.  I have it at will.  I have placed some value on the service it can provide me, and expect it to serve me well.  If it ceases to play the role I expect of it, however, there is no reason not to discard it and replace it with something that does.

Once I start repairing, however, there is a relational shift.  Now that my time and skill have gone into making that thing whole again, the relationship is more one of peers.  It serves me, and I serve it to the best of my repairing ability.  Sometimes it doesn’t do as well as I would wish, and sometimes my repairs are wholly inadequate—and I am the one found wanting.

While I have many stories of this dynamic that are longer and more complex, the brown sweater provides a simple example.  Relatively new (to me) it has been a serviceable, if undistinguished, addition to my wardrobe.  When I noticed a seam that was coming undone, I took a few minutes to make a neat repair, glad for the skill that made the task so easy. Later it was more seams, a small hole in the back, and a missing button.  This repair took a little more time, and more ingenuity.  As I studied it for anything I might have missed, I felt a new sense of connection.  This sweater had a new lease on life because of my care, and I cared for it more as a result.

As I mend more, I care more. The challenge then becomes when to acknowledge that something I have cared about has come to the end of its useful life, to find a way to dispose of it fittingly, and to mourn its loss.  The acquisition of a replacement is bittersweet, and brings with it all the weight of a new relationship.

But I have no regrets.  I would rather have all the responsibilities of a give and take relationship, where I sometimes do well and sometimes fall short, than be in the role of master, surrounded by servant/slave possessions that exist at my pleasure, to be discarded at the first sign of frailty or imperfection.  Sometimes, I have to admit, it can feel a bit like running a nursing home, and letting one of them go can bring some relief.  There are certainly advantages to having something new that works to perfection.  But I’m still glad to have the skills to prolong so many good and useful lives, and I would never want to give up that sense of connection, and all that opportunity to care.

Love poem lapse

The trolley is stopped
stuck behind a trash truck, likely—
I don’t mind.
I’m gazing out the window
composing a love poem
to the sycamore outside.

I love these great trees that line our streets,
know the texture of their bark
the shape their branches take
just how their fingers meet the sky
the seed balls scattered, nature’s quiet jewels,
throughout their crown.

I love these trees in winter, and I
know how they will greet the spring
with tiny folded leaves of April green.
and shade our summer days.

I give myself a mental shake.
This trolley’s really stuck—
no one’s going anywhere.
I should be working,
making use of this delay.
I pull out the article I need to read,
settle into productivity--
then give myself another shake.

What could be a better use of time
this busy city day
than soaking in the beauty of our world,
noticing my love for that great sycamore
etching it deep into my heart?

Dare to imagine:  A new economy is possible!
Economic cooperatives

    The Mondragón Cooperative, in the Basque Country in northern Spain, is one of the oldest and most successful examples of economic cooperatives.  Begun in 1956, the Mondragón co-ops have transformed a depressed area into one of the most productive in Europe with a high standard of living and an egalitarian way of life. What started with a handful of workers making simple paraffin cookers and heaters, now consists of over 82,000 people in an integrated group of some 258 cooperatively-owned businesses, subsidiaries, and affiliated organisations, with total sales in 2011 of 14 € billion. These co-ops produce computer chips, high tech industrial machinery, household appliances, and many other products. They are owned and managed by their workers. Seeing the achievements of the Mondragón helps to overcome the idea—widespread in North America—that worker run cooperatives can exist only on the economic fringe.
        Shift Change, a documentary film by veteran award-winning filmmakers Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin, tells the little known stories of employee-owned businesses, including the Mondragón Cooperative, that compete successfully in today’s economy while providing secure, dignified jobs in democratic workplaces:

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

An Israeli man who posted a photo of himself and his daughter on Facebook with the message, "Iranians... we love you", starting an avalanche of love letters between "enemy" nations.  Israel Loves Iran: The Facebook Campaign Launches Love Avalanche

All the hundreds of peacemakers on the ground who helped keep the Kenyan elections from spiraling into the violence that everyone feared.

The 59,440 people who have pledged to resist the Keystone XL pipeline that would encourage the extraction of incredibly polluting and climate-warming Alberta tar sands oil, and carry it across the American plains.  (

Ron Finley, who plants vegetable gardens in South Central Los Angeles--in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs--to offer some alternative in a community where "the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys" (from his Ted Talk on "gangster gardeners":
More resources:

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:
Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years: (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to

My favorite magazine:  YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, they outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world:   

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