Thursday, September 27, 2007

Creature Comforts: allowing and denying ourselves in modern society (Part 1)

I lay on the floor of my best friend’s apartment, my cheek resting on my left hand, the other hand clutching a hair dryer. On the floor beside me, swaddled in a green fleece blanket, lay my friend’s six-week-old daughter, Louisa. My husband and I were taking the baby’s portrait and were amused to learn that the heat and white noise from the hair dryer would calm her enough so the camera could capture her in a peaceful moment. I held the hair dryer about a foot from her head and gently coaxed the warm air back and forth. Her soft hair lifted in response to the dryer as she wrinkled her brow, a reaction to this new sensation. Then she closed her eyes and cooed. We all laughed, reveling in her comfort. Louisa was still and peaceful as the camera shutter fired loudly. Not even the large soft-box flash could stir her now. As I lay next to her on the floor, I realized that as an adult I yearn for the same creature comforts of warmth and white noise. Watching this tiny infant beside me confirmed the notion that we as humans instinctively yearn for, indeed demand, comfort from the moment we leave the safety of the womb.

For all that, there are these little things we like to call “rites of passage” that we must go through in order to grow as humans. Whether society, family, or our egos mandate it, undertaking these rites undoubtedly involves facing a fear or multiple fears, and coming out on the other side a stronger, more capable adult. For some, the simple act of leaving the house and going into public is a rite. For others, it is climbing Mount Everest.

Several days ago, I happened to catch an episode of “Oprah”. The topic of discussion was the story of Chris McCandless, the young man who journeyed into the Alaskan wilderness to abandon his capitalist roots and live off the land alone, an act many of us in North America would find bold, if not asinine. Incidentally, he did not survive for long in this state, dying of starvation. To find out why, I recommend you read the book about Chris’ journey called “Into the Wild,” by Jon Krakauer. It is truly riveting. Incidentally, Krakauer was a guest on Oprah’s show that day, as was actor Sean Penn, who has recently made a movie based on the story. When asked what they wanted people to take away from the book and movie, both Krakauer and Penn emphasized the need for our society to let go of our comfort addiction and do something meaningful with our lives. The idea of comfort addiction gave me pause, and led me to ponder the paradoxical nature of allowing and denying ourselves comfort in modern society.

Undoubtedly, the sheer popularity of the Chris McCandless story and the can’t-shake-it reactions to it are a result of our growing need as North Americans, during such unstable times, to get back in touch with our natural state - that primal moment when our warm, sopping wet bodies entered the frigid air of the delivery room. Some destiny was waiting for us “out there” in the wild, and we went for it, and have never gone back or been the same since. This is essentially the first of many rites of passage that we must surpass throughout our earthly existence. Beyond this point, however, we generally have a choice as to which and how many risks and adventures we wish to take. And this is what Krakauer and Penn were getting at: that many of us are opting for the cushy comforts of our modern lives in lieu of living full, daring lives.

The paradox in this argument lies in the baby’s reaction to the hair dryer and my empathy with it. If we instinctively yearn for comfort, why should we deny this instinct and purposefully force ourselves into murky waters? After all, in our plush society (and yes, those were very plush chairs the guests on Oprah were sitting in), we actually have to make an effort anymore to be uncomfortable. Going into the wild (or other such daring acts) can actually cost a lot of money these days! So how can we help but opt for the comfort that surrounds us? And is there a happy medium?

I will continue this discussion in my next post.
In the meantime, please share your thoughts on this topic!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Blog Action Day

On October 15, this blog will take part in Blog Action Day. I will be posting, with thousands of other blogs, about one topic: the environment. This is a fantastic movement within blog culture to focus our communication efforts on one issue. According to the website, the participating blogs and websites will reach over 3 million people!

If you have a blog of your own, I highly recommend participating in this great effort. Just visit the website to sign up and join me on October 15 in writing about this important issue. And make sure to check back on that day to find out what aspect of the environment I have chosen to write about.

Happy Blogging and Reading,

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Favorite Song Update #2

Hi Folks! I will be periodically posting my favorite song(s) of the moment. Since I have such a strong love of music, I thought it would be fun to share not only what I'm doing and thinking about on my blog, but also what I'm listening to!

One of my favorite songs of the moment is Jason Isbell's "Shotgun Wedding" from his new album entitled Sirens of the Ditch. A former member of the Drive-By Truckers, Isbell has created a solo album worth listening to, and investing in. Whether or not you already enjoy the sounds of alternative country, I suggest giving Jason Isbell a try.

I couldn't find a suitable site from which to sample the whole song, so feel free to search the artist and song title through your preferred browser or music site (itunes, amazon, etc.). Happy listening!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Uncovering former talents can embolden current ones

When I was in my early twenties, I loved to write poetry. While I still love to write, poetry has been a medium I have pushed to the back burner over the years. Since I always seem to have a plethora of projects going on at once (i.e. knitting, blogging, songwriting, reading, fitness, qigong, etc.), I do not worry about becoming lazy or passive about my creative urges, or about letting one or two fall by the wayside.

Yet, it is important to revisit these talents that we once nurtured, whether it is from 5, 20, or 50 years ago. Everything we do leads us toward something else. We may retire old talents or hobbies, but they will always stay with us and continue to influence our current projects and interests. When I read the poem I have featured below, I remember the young woman I was then. At the same time, the person I am today is reflected in these words as though I am looking at an old photograph of myself. Ironically, Fats Waller is an old-time jazz musician that I have listened to with my father since I was a child. So the influences in this piece (and all our creative endeavors) are innumerable and timeless.

I have not modified this poem or its structure in any way. This is exactly as I had typed it 5 years ago:


Fats Waller has been my
soundtrack since the days got balmy.
I feel he would sing
about the cottonwood spores floating
as he walks down the lane with me;
about the wheat fields growing
and churning as we drive past
farms of joy.
He’d say “You’ve got it good here,
Sister, ain’t no other place like it.”
As the sound of his twinkling piano
tickles me something, I shed
my skin for another summer.

Summer on the Palouse Prairie, Idaho
©Larissa Chace Smith

Tell me, what are your hidden or forgotten talents, interests, and loves?