On Being Blog
So we’ve been trying to finally find someone to interview about the human animal bond, a show topic that’s been in the works for quite a while now. I was shocked to learn in my research just how much the relationship between humans and animals had changed over time. About 100 years ago, dogs in this country were primarily used for work on the farm, and rarely allowed inside the home. Today, 60-80% of dogs sleep with their owners at night in the bedroom, either in or on the bed.
Why have we gotten so much closer to these creatures? Is it our growing sense of displacement from nature that makes us want to form a bond with something non-human? Is it the same longing many people for natural places that a recent guest talked about in our show Pagans Ancient and Modern?
Of course, our desire to get close to animals is not new, as this amazing article from the New Yorker points out: the earliest artworks human beings are known to have created were cave paintings of animals. Maybe we bring animals into our home today for the same reason those first artists chose not to depict themselves but rather the living creatures around them. We want to get ahold of that wildness somehow. But I have to wonder what those cave painters would think if they could see us today, feeding the fish, changing the kitty litter, or doling out doggy anti-depressants.
After a group conversation about which Star Wars movie was the best one (discounting the new trilogy, obviously, my favorite The Empire Strikes Back has a strong following), I went out for lunch. In the food court nearest to our building, I saw at a distance a man sitting at a table, pencil in hand, his palm squeezing his forehead. He was looking down at some paper, and looked like he had to figure out a way to balance his finances or die. As I got closer, I saw what he was working on: a crossword puzzle. He was completely taken.
As I walked back to the office, I thought, “Gee, I should take up a new hobby.” I thought of just a few weeks ago when I was playing with my cousin’s son, following the instructions of a Lego jet, sifting through the pieces to find a red block with two studs, and feeling this kind of meditative calm come over me. I remembered being lost, as I would be in childhood, sifting through the blocks the same way. Maybe I should become a Legomaniac as an adult. (Unfortunately, sitting on the floor isn’t much fun anymore.) I guess I’m noticing all this because we just recorded some promotional language for our upcoming rebroadcast of Play, Spirit and Character.
(photo: “crosswords“ by m_m_mnemonic/Flickr)
Fatemeh Keshavarz, our guest in “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi,” periodically distributes a personal newsletter sharing her thoughts and opinions on Iranian news, culture, and US-Iranian relations and politics. What I enjoy most about these newsletters are the visual elements she includes that highlight photography, art, and multimedia features that you wouldn’t find in U.S. media.
Recently she included a link to a slideshow of Iranian women potters describing their art. One potter, Maryam Kouhestani, talks about her striking piece of figures worshiping behind 40 angels:
“…My angels are children who were born old. They all look rough. They have not experienced the tenderness of childhood, but deep down they are still children. One of my angels is trying to tell her fortune. I got this idea from the children there. Their lives are so much at the mercy of fate and random events that they are always trying to find out what will happen to them next.”
Photo by David Silver / Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0
It's been fascinating to watch the reactions to our recent rebroadcast of the Barbara Kingsolver. Last year we had a wildly positive response. This year, more than a few listeners experienced Kingsolver's account of her experiment in a year of eating what she could grow herself — and my interview of her — to be elitist at worst or impractical at best.
Full confession here: I was more surprised by last year's response, because I also felt that the odyssey Kingsolver undertook necessitated all kinds of basics that elude me and most of the human beings I know — a stay at home job where you set your own hours, a wildly cooperative teenage daughter, a farm you just happened to inherit — and that's not to mention the southern climate. Still, I was compelled by her insistence that we can't leave these problems to the next generation, and by her descriptions of the delights of homegrown food.
I did plant a garden last summer of the first time in my life, and loved it. I've made more of an effort ever since to buy food that has not travelled thousands of miles to get to me. But this year I haven't managed the garden. I've become more acutely aware of how hard — if not impossible — it would be to live on what I could grow year round in Minnesota or even buy at coops or farmers' markets. And I've learned about some of the ironies of this issue of food globally. For example, that New Zealand is producing such ecologically friendly food that, on balance, the kiwi fruit they produce might be an ethical choice for me to purchase. And on and on.
So here's my question to you, to all of us: Is sustainability sustainable? Part of the challenge, it seems to me, is to be focused and mindful and accept the limits of what each of us can humanly do in the circumstances in which we live right now, and accept that in ourselves and others. Are we suffering from too little practical guidance on how the routines of our imperfect, already complicated daily lives can truly affect the environment? Or are we facing a debilitatingly guilt-inducing overload of information?
I'd like to hear others' ruminations on this. What happened to the listening public's excitement about eating locally between last year and this? Many of you asked if Barbara Kingsolver herself is still living this way. If she's not, does that negate the whole effort? How can we stop sustainability fatigue from setting in?
What inspires a person to learn the language of his ancestors, even though he didn't grow up speaking that language himself?
And what inspires him to join a school where he can teach that language to children?
What do those children think about the language? And what affect can the effort have on an entire community?
These were a few of the questions I had for Keller Paap, a teacher in an Ojibwe immersion school program called Waadookodaading (We Help Each Other) on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation in north-central Wisconsin. I got in touch with Paap while I was working on our recent program "Sustaining Language, Sustaining Meaning." You can hear his story in the embedded audio above. He begins by introducing himself in Ojibwe.
What I gleaned from talking to Paap was that this language revitalization effort is doing more than merely preserving the language. It's literally keeping the language alive so that it can continue to grow and change, with new words and new ways of saying things. I love the way he describes his students' relationship to the language. It's literally keeping the language alive so that it can continue to grow and change, with new words and new ways of saying things. I love the way he describes his students' relationship to the language. They aren't dwelling on the long-standing U.S. policy of forcibly educating Native Americans in English. They aren't learing Ojibwe as a political act or even as a cultural act. They're just living in it, and making it their own.
This audio piece was produced with help from Trent Gilliss and Mitch Hanley. Music by Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band. Keller Paap took the photo of the Ojibwe road sign, which translates as "The Dam."
(photo: “Antony Gormley: Olympic Podium” by threefishsleeping/Flickr)
Our company’s marketing folks have asked us to put together a compilation CD featuring material from the past 12 months. This CD will be used to give to public-radio programming directors who are not familiar with the program, as well as to potential funders, and for other marketing uses.
Rather than some edited compilation, we’re thinking of putting together the first half of three separate programs on the CD (each half being about 25 minutes). That way, we can showcase the depth, intimacy and storytelling we aim for. The other criteria? The shows must have been produced in the past year.
Choices, choices… It would be wonderful to highlight our Peabody Award-winning Rumi show. I’m also fond, myself, of the Mathematics show, the Architecture show, and the Jean Vanier show (yes, Jean Vanier is his own subject). Oh, and Heschel.