Spring at last.
I look at the tulips slowly
emerging from the soil and think:
And not just for the
mourning doves mating on our
terrace or the hosta lace appearing from
beneath the snow.
I'm actually going
to have my own show this
fall at AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH!
There they will be - four years of Compost
Compositions, priced, framed,
curated and composed.
I was unsure
when the exhibit director
suggested I show my work like
photographs are usually seen: printed
on paper, framed and behind glass. I had liked
the immediacy and simplicity of canvas.
But then I saw them framed and
understood. Wow, these
really are cool.
compost is my teacher,
reminding me to be aware of my
assumptions. For me, canvas was the point -
an invitation to literally 're-frame' my beliefs about
art and how things are 'supposed' to work.
More than just immediacy, canvas
seemed simpler, with fewer
materials and less
But then I
handled all the
cardboard and tape
and compared this to the
small packet needed to ship ten
times as many prints on paper that I
could then have framed by local artisans...
and my thinking changed about
the waste and I realized the
in the very idea
of a show
Is it good enough?
Am I good enough for all this?
Then I look at the work and experience
an uncontainable surge
I see that
the canvas is actually
too simple, too much like a poster
I could order from CVS. The paper, frames
and glass give this gorgeous garbage
a presence that it deserves
and I have earned.
Am I allowed
to say such things? Yes.
Because this work celebrates the
convergence of creativity and climate action
and in the process inspires joy and new ways of being
not just for me, but maybe for you as well. We
will only know, though, if it gets out
there...So get ready.
the light shine!
It's daylight savings time.
And maybe, just maybe, the snow
will melt by April and the
will be above
Green New Deal, Part 2,
I get real about our energy conservation
at home. And since we're talking
about light, I thought I'd
We have lots
of them - 67 in fact -
that are essential sources of
light and stunning ways to frame
views of our garden and Vermont. But
in terms of energy, even our 15
year old double-paned
Over the years,
we have slowly added
insulated and other shades to
help keep the house warm in winter
and cool in summer. Some are even color
coordinated, while others are thin,
cheap roll-ups. We even
have plastic in the
have a hodge-podge.
Of course, my favorites are the
ones I made when first married in 1992 and
the re-used ones from my grandmother's house that
I found in her attic when she died and then
hung in our living room a decade
ago - - just to try
I've been thinking
about the idea of 'window
dressing,' of giving a superficial, but
misleading impression. Most of the 1930's New
Deal murals I studied in college (see last week's blog
post, My Green New Deal, Part 1) were colorful
celebrations of the American Dream,
a dream that for millions of
people at that time
was a broken
I feel surrounded by
broken promises - - The dream
of a house, but no one tells you how much
money it takes to maintain it; The dream of filling the
house with things you need and love, but no advertisement
reveals the true cost and impact of those objects.
So now we have ten years to adapt to
the realities caused by our
Ok. That is way
too heavy and way too
guilt-ridden for my tastes. So
let's go back to light, color, texture
and the glorious convergence of creativity
and climate action. I love this time of year. It's still
cold and inside projects still beckon, like
making the curtains in my studio
warmer by sewing old linen
napkins onto them...
our family's Green New
Deal. We have a decade to make
the rest of our 67 windows as energy efficient
as they can be. To achieve that goal, we will take stock
of what needs to be done, prioritize and make a
plan. For now, though, I will continue to
appreciate this crazy mix of window
'dressings' that continue to
keep us warm and I will
keep noticing the
when you clean out your studio
and come upon a project that is more than 30 years old?
There are black and
white prints in carefully labeled files,
two scrapbooks with detailed annotations,
and two binders full of color slides.
what happens when that project
contains raw material that relates directly to one
of the hottest topics in Washington DC?
No, I'm not talking
about the impact or reality of an aging
population or racism
in our country.
I'm talking about
The Green New Deal and
all the controversy it is inspiring.
It turns out,
that in 1987, at the age of 21,
I traveled around the United States
on Amtrak, stayed with alumni from my college in twelve
different cities, and researched murals painted
during the Great Depression in Post
Offices and other public
The highlight was
visiting the small town of Farmersville, Texas,
photographing the mural in the post office and then, a few days
later, meeting the artist, Jerry Bywaters,
who created that work.
The New Deal
is about as good as it gets
when it comes to the convergence of
creativity and climate
were comprehensive, universal
and profoundly innovative. They impacted every
aspect of our country's infrastructure and re-inspired hope
for millions in the dream that once was
getting out of the
world I knew, was I able to see the
great promise of FDR's vision. At the same time,
I witnessed the reality that fifty years
later, that promise remained
elusive for many,
So here I am.
It's 8:30 on a Saturday night.
Calvin, the dog, is asleep at my feet and I am in
heaven, remembering a very long
Saturday night in the
I was changing
trains in Kansas City. The
Southwest Chief was six hours late.
There were no cell phones or laptop computers,
so we got to know each other in that pre-digital waiting-room
kind of way. We were more concerned for the
well-being of those involved in the
accident on the track, than
we were with being
provided hats for the kids. I got
out my camera and made friends. These places,
people and works of public art I was so
inspired by thirty-two years ago
are why I care so
When I say
that compost is like America,
I mean it. We are nothing without our diversity,
perseverance, and patience. We are also nothing without our audacity.
What the hell? Why not give it a try?
A Green New Deal might
be just be what
when I discover a project from
decades ago and my husband is out of town
and I'm feeling reflective?
A lot, I guess.
How did I get here?
Why does it matter?
If you read my
post, "Why By Degrees"
you have some idea. But what's the
real story behind this blog and this site?
If you've known me for any length
of time, you've witnessed
A blog called
It sounded exotic. Ataraxy stands
for "serene calmness." I needed that. For
a bunch of ancient Greeks, Ataraxia was a lucid
state of robust equanimity. Heaven.
That's me. In the garden.
I wanted to share.
Then I found
Rufus and George.
Why not let them speak for me?
Our global problems are all about consumption
and our need for objects of all kinds. What insights could
a ruffled 50-year-old Steif Chimpanzee and a broken
china pug share about our relationship to all
our belongings, big and small?
So I briefly had a blog
called "Rufus &
a problem, though.
I had more to say than Rufus &
George understood, about how stuck we seemed,
caught between 20th century expectations and 21st century
realities. It hit me when I forgot to pull up instead of push down when
I peed. It's so confusing, changing a habit I'd had my entire life.
Flush the toilet. Push down. Until now, when everything
was a hybrid. So I created a blog, a business,
and a book, all called "Our
But I was stuck.
Why would anyone care?
Who was I behind the blog, book
and business? What was I trying to prove, and to
whom? So I got help. When my new business coach asked
me those same questions, I knew, in my heart, that I
was a photographer. When she asked me what I
loved, I knew -- compost and being outside
and noticing light and texture and
beauty. So I ignored all I had
been doing, got my
I kept exploring,
while taking small steps
forward. A web site. A business card.
A trip to New York City to photograph compost
& a few months later, have a 'pop-up' show where
I stood by my work and told people I was a
photographer and that I was into
compost, which kept inviting
me to go deeper, beyond
the soil, and into
I kept diving.
Saboteurs yacked on
my shoulder, but I kept going.
A visit to my sister in Idaho gave me time
to process. Compost, it seems, has the answers for me.
Pay attention. Be patient. Honor micro- dramas.
Allow for the mess and complexity
contained in any story, even
my own. Change "by
My work inspires joy and
new ways of being by celebrating this
magical convergence of creativity and climate action
that I experience every day. Who knew?
Welcome. This is going to be fun.
Maybe we'll meet in person
some day and you can
share your story
So that's how I got here.
It matters because you matter and your
story matters. Even if, like mine, your journey includes
false starts and stops and takes you this way
and that, it's relevant and of value.
Because, in a democracy,
we all matter.
Happy New Year!
but I decided to embroider
excerpts from Walt Whitman's
poem "This Compost." While he may
have written about dead corpses following
the American Civil War, I re-imagined
his words and considered waste
instead, and the power of
the earth to renew
We have that
same power. Every
January 1st to begin again.
Whitman's is an optimistic poem
reflecting our innate American optimism.
I celebrate this poem not just because
2019 is the 200th anniversary of
Whitman's birth, but also
because his message
is more important
now than ever.
stitches might be uneven
and the text written on an old pillowcase
may be awkward, but seen from afar, the colors
are bright, cheerful and make me want
to smile. Optimism is all I know.
So here we come 2019,
on stitch at a time...
my online climate
'coaching' class and am
petrified. What if no one is
interested or needs what I have
to offer? But I show up,
one week, one stitch
at a time and
know it is
I came home
from Mexico to find
that my anxious dog had
peed all over the sheepskin rug
I stand on to write these blog posts.
Frustrated? You bet. But what's a gal to do?
A few squirts of soap, some aggressive
massaging of the fleece and some
patience while it dried was all
that was needed. This is
what I tell myself.
New Year. New
So here we are.
It's 2019. The UN Climate
Report says we have twelve years.
Our job is to show up, support each other and
get the job done. For me, that involves
persistence and patience and a
whole lot of bravery as
I creatively try new
"Behold this Compost! behold it well!
"It's a process, steps along a path.
Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor.
Becoming is never giving up on the idea
that there's more growing
to be done."
- Michelle Obama from Becoming
I've always admired Michelle Obama. It's hard not to. She's honest, intelligent and radiant. She promoted organic gardening and healthy food at the White House and inspired us to get our hands dirty, literally, in the garden (check out American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America). She's my kind of woman.
Naturally, I bought her latest book, Becoming, the day it came out and, because I had a bad cold, was able to sit on the couch, drink tea and read it from cover to cover. I love that the keys on my piano are chipped, like the one she learned to play on, and that I would probably feel comfortable inviting her to my house for conversation by the fire. She's that real.
Earlier today, while I was working on my annual 'between-holiday' puzzle, I wondered if Michelle ever does puzzles. And if she does, what is her approach? Does she do the edges first, like me? Does she sort by shape or color? Is she methodical or random? It doesn't really matter, but Becoming was an invitation to consider our commonalities. As she writes at the end of the Epilogue, "Let's invite one another in. Maybe we can begin to fear less, to make fewer assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same."
It was this spirit that inspired my exploration of compost. To me, it was so much more than necessary nutrients for the garden. It became a metaphor for what it means to be an American. Without diversity of the green and brown stuff (nitrogen and carbon), patience and periodic attention, my compost pile would be an unproductive mess. Since diversity is our strength, why, then, do people fear it?
A few days ago, I tore up some recent newspapers (The Valley News, our local paper) to offset all the vegetable scraps from Umpleby's Cafe and looked closely at what I saw in the compost pile. The stories covered everything from immigration conflicts along our border with Texas and deadly runaway fires in California to the dangers of E-Cigarettes and a recent shooting. Among these dramatic issues, each of which deserves our attention, there was an invitation to buy skis and yet another Snoopy carton. There are big problems in the world, but we can't solve them ourselves. We have to move beyond fear and ski if we love to and laugh at Snoopy, because it just feels good. These are ways we get out of ourselves.
"We all play a role in this democracy.
We need to remember the power of every vote.
I continue, too, to keep myself connected to a force
that's larger and more potent than any one election, or
leader, or news story - and that's optimism.
For me, this is a form of faith,
an antidote to fear."
- Michelle Obama from Becoming
Thank you, Michelle, for your invitation, your inspiration, and your optimism. You give me confidence to build this blog, By Degrees, and to share practical ways we can become the people are meant to be in a society that celebrates all of us.
Our one true connection is Harvard. You went to law school and I earned my undergraduate degree in Fine Arts there. I wonder what you would think of my degree collage. For each of us, that experience in Cambridge, MA contributed to our capacity to share our stories with others and to have the confidence to put ourselves out there. I'm sorry that I won't be able to hear you speak in person, but I love your Instagram posts. With gratitude, Lyn
"It's not about being perfect.
It's not about where you get yourself in the end.
There's power in allowing yourself to be known and heard,
in owning your unique story, in using your authentic
voice. And there's grace in being willing to
know and hear others. This, for me,
is how we become."
- Michelle Obama from Becoming
Why is this blog called By Degrees? Because...
Change happens in increments...until it doesn't;
We need to look at the world from many angles;
More people experience damage to their tissue because of the sun's increased power;
There are many educated people with lots of diplomas,
yet we still can't get along or figure out how to solve our current climate crisis;
There is a difference between 2 and 1.5 degrees celsius.
Maybe it's time to literally 'reframe' the narrative.
Why not have a proverbial 'do-over' and see what emerges?
We have degrees.
We are separated by just a few degrees.
We can have a 10 degree perspective or a 360 degree perspective.
We feel the heat.
It's time to look within and recompose our shared story.
Because change happens in logical steps and stages...
until it doesn't.
Rip Road Neighbors Gather on Earth Day
It felt really great to invite neighbors to our house, to have people actually show up, and to have thoughtful conversations about issues in our neighborhood and town. April Salas, a member of Hanover's Planning Board and a member of Sustainable Hanover, joined us with her daughter. My father, an octogenarian and lifelong student, was thrilled to get a chance to talk with her. It was a wonderfully multi-generational gathering!
Our neighbor Len Cadwallader, a lifelong activist and former head of Vital Communities, invited us to help him maintain trails on Balch Hill, a local landmark and treasure. I was so caught up in the energy, I forgot to take pictures of neighborhood kids playing in the treehouse!
Although we have had many neighborhood parties over the past decade, this one felt different. In addition to being part of our new Hanover Neighborhood Action Group, this gathering was also part of my own 'coming out' as a community leader. It's been five years since I've risked being in the public eye - - After trying various avenues for involvement (schools, non-profits, etc.), I've found where I'm meant to be - - Not just at home doing my photography, but with my neighbors, truly trying to figure out what it takes to walk this walk we are on.
Five years ago, a contemporary at my 25th Harvard Reunion suggested that what rich people in New Hampshire do doesn't matter. What really matters is what's happening in China. At that same reunion, I spoke with my classmate Melissa Lane, a philosophy professor at Princeton, who had recently published a book called EcoRepublic: What Can the Ancients Teach us about Ethics, Virtue and Sustainable Living in which she states:
Lane's ultimate argument is that republics necessitate participation. Thus, if we believe in the idea of our democracy, then we have to have confidence in the power of our individual actions.
Just as every emission matters, so too does every choice we make. For me, that choice is about building community in my neighborhood to see what living in a democratic society feels like at the most local level. I mean, if we can't do it, who can? So I transcended my fears of conflict and rejection and had a party. Last Sunday's gathering was a great place to begin and I look forward to more. Thank you to all those neighbors and friends who celebrated Earth Day with me.
Evelyn R. Swett celebrates
the convergence of creativity and climate action to inspire joy
and new ways of being.
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