Tuesday, June 29, 2010

ETC Voices Podcast 009


This episode features more conversation with Martina Westover about her search for the social technologies to facilitate community cohesion, Albert Bates on Right Livelihood, banjo music by Luke Who and a farewell from Jamie J.

The Albert Bates material was excerpted with permission from the Enlightened Business Podcast:


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Walkability and Diversity

Today's Writer's Block question on LiveJournal asks, “Do you prefer to live in an urban or rural environment? Why?”

Believe it or not, the pivotal and most interesting word in this question for me is “prefer.” When posed with the city-living-versus-rural-living question, I'm inclined to delve into big picture abstractions that turn on questions of viability and sustainability, but when asked what I prefer, I delve not into theory, but into memory. I have lived in very large cities, including New York City and Nagoya, Japan, and I have lived tucked away in the woods in Washington, Arkansas, and Maryland. And, of course, I have lived in suburbia. When it comes to quality of life, as much as I love trees, and creeks, and birdsong, I'm leaning toward city living as my preferred mode.

I grew up in suburbia. My father worked a job in which promotion meant re-location, and as child I remember living in the suburbs outside of St. Louis, Spokane, San Francisco, and Kansas City. As a child growing up in suburbia in the 70s and 80s, it didn't really occur to me that there was any other mode of life other than the suburban form, and in retrospect, suburban life had a lot going for it. I grew up in the days before children spent their pre-college years under practical house-arrest. Even before I started first grade, I would leave home on my bicycle with my friends and explore my suburban environment without adult supervision. I remember riding with a pack of other kids on bikes when I still had training wheels on my own bike.

I lived in Pleasant Hill, California from the latter half of first grade through the end of my third grade year, and I would disappear on my bicycle for hours to roam the network of trails through the undeveloped hills behind my house. This was normal for the mid-seventies, and unless I missed dinner, my mother wouldn't worry about my long absences. I returned to my old Pleasant Hill neighborhood as an adult. The hills where I used to ride my bike were covered with suburban houses. No child living there today has the opportunity for wholesome, adult-free adventure that I enjoyed in 1976.

I lived in the Kansas City suburbs from the start of fourth grade through high school and two years of community college. Again, I had friends and bikes, and there was no expectation on the part of a parent in those days of being able to pinpoint your child's exact location within a matter of seconds, and again, suburbia hadn't filled every inch of undeveloped space, and there were pastures and woods into which kids on bikes could escape adult supervision and engage in all the acts of imagination, cruelty, and pyromania that used to be purview of childhood. As with old my California stomping grounds, the process of suburban infill has erased those Temporary Autonomous Zones from that suburban landscape, and children living there now live in a panopticon.

I'll spare you the harrowing details of my close encounters with death as a teenager in suburbia. Suffice it to say that automobiles, alcohol, and no place for teenagers to go is not the most workable combination of elements imaginable.

When I left home, I went to the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri where I lived in a dormitory. Again, I had friends and no adult supervision, and I lived in the marvelous walkable environment of a university campus. My food came from the dining hall, and since I was 21 years old upon arrival, I could buy alcohol for my freshmen dorm-mates, which meant I mostly drank for free. That was pretty much the ideal living arrangement, but we all know that college is a temporary dream-world which vanishes long before we appreciate just how good we have it, so I won't include it in the list of candidates for my preferred living arrangement.

After a semester of dorm life at UMC, I spent the next year living in a dormitory on a small college campus in the very rural town of Nakajo, in Japan's Niigata prefecture. Again, on a college campus I had everything I needed within an easy walk, and lots of friends with cars made alcohol an easy acquisition. Again, it's the fantasy bubble of college life, and so it doesn't count.

After I finished college I wanted to return to Japan. I applied for the JET program, a system administered by the Japanese government that places native English speakers in Japanese public schools to teach English, but I didn't get it. Instead, I spent a summer in Alaska trying to make enough money in the commercial fishing industry to get back to Japan under my own financial steam. That summer I got a taste for life aboard a boat. The 18-hour workdays and exploitation by unscrupulous employers keep my memories of the life aquatic from being fond ones, but I could well imagine life on a boat agreeing with me if I had any say in who else lived on board and where we went.

Eventually, I did make it back to Japan, and shortly thereafter I had my first apartment. It was actually fairly large by Japanese standards, and I could only afford it because it was old, not in great repair (by Japanese standards) and apparently owned and administered by the local Yakuza (organized criminals). I lived two blocks from a subway station, and I could be in the commercial center of the city within 45 minutes of walking out my door. The city has castles, parks, museums, zoos, and endless opportunities for amusement and diversion. 

I lived there with my American girlfriend, and she attended Nanzan University, which was about a half-hour's walk from our apartment. Between home and the university was a small, unassuming Buddhist temple called Tooganji that had an enormous metal statue of the Buddha in their back garden. I spent a lot of time there, and the priests never hassled me or asked me to move along.

Wikipedia describes Nagoya as the fourth most populous urban area in Japan, and just about everything one could want, other than solitude and quiet, can be found there. What's more, just about all of it is accessible by public transportation. If there were any American cities that offered the immense range of activities and the kind of car-free mobility that I enjoyed in Nagoya, I would probably be living there right now.

When I returned from my second stint in Japan, I ended up in grad school back in Columbia, Missouri. This time I lived off campus. Still car-free, I lived in a variety of student slums within an easy walk of the campus and, of equal importance, within walking distance of the old downtown. As with most small cities, the bulk of commercial activity has shifted out to the business loop off of interstate 70, but the old downtown core, being an easy walk from the college campus, is replete with places to eat, drink, play pool, get tattooed, dance, and buy comics, video games, and, if you're into that sort of thing, clothing. I remember spending long hours sitting outside of the St. Louis Bread Company, reading comics, drinking endless refills, and talking to friends and acquaintances who happened by in a steady stream. I've never been to Europe, but as I understand it, this is a fairly typical experience for Europeans. For me, this sort of experience is confined to a tiny portion of my biography, and I have little expectation of finding it again any time soon. 

A friend with a car made it possible to shop at a big grocery store on the outskirts of town and thus secure a source of affordable food to supplement the mostly over-priced fare available downtown. One year, I purchased a campus housing meal plan, which meant that while I didn't live in the dorms, I could eat in the rather nice dormitory cafeterias at least once a day. Again, this was college, but because I was not only a student, but an employee of the university, that living arrangement orbits closer to the realm of sustainable possibility than simply paying tuition and living on faith and student loans.

When I left grad school, I moved to Seattle, and after a bit of couch-surfing I secured a studio apartment downtown. I worked one block from my apartment, and I lived in that small downtown apartment for longer than I've lived in any other place in my adult life. Again, I had no car, and again, I depended on a friend with a car to get me to and from the sorts of grocery stores you don't find downtown. 

This was a marvelous arrangement for many of the same reasons that I loved living in Columbia, Missouri. Everything I needed was within an easy walk of my apartment, and because I did so much walking, my idea of “an easy walk” covered far more ground then than it does now. I could step out my front door and walk to see some of my favorite bands play live, or linger in bookstores and museums. I could reach Seattle's famous Pike Place Market in about 10 minutes on foot, and so I would go there on a whim with no plan in mind.

I have lived in far too many places as an adult to describe them all here, but in addition to all of this city living, I have also lived in the rural hinterlands, and while they have much to recommend them, one thing I really missed while living out there in the boonies was the opportunity to walk. In both rural Arkansas and rural Maryland, my opportunities for walking were extremely restricted. Almost all land out away from rural population centers in this country is private property. The roads lack sidewalks, and to set foot on any of the picturesque pastures that scroll past one's car window is to risk an encounter with a jealous land-owner or the police.

Here at the Ecovillage Training Center on the Farm I have a rather unique living experience. Without getting in a car, it's hard to reach anything other than the restorative ambiance of the woods, but without setting foot off the ETC grounds I come into contact with a steady stream of dynamic and lively souls. I live in an inn, and interesting people stay here. It doesn't offer me the range of social choices I would have in a city, but the social filter of the Farm puts me in daily contact with a choice selection of people. I don't know how long I will be here, but I suspect that I will only come to fully appreciate my situation here in hindsight.

My reflections reveal to me that what I really value is walkability and opportunities to spend time with excellent people as well as the option of being left alone when I've had my fill of social interaction. Knowing that, I could probably satisfy those wants in a variety of settings, but it seems to me that a big city or a college town offer the most promise. The country offers natural beauty, a slower pace of life, less intrusion and micromanagement by civil authorities and a high probability of running into people I know. The 'burbs seem to offer the worst of both worlds, and without a car or the sort of usable mass transit that one rarely finds in the United States, suburbia just isn't even an option.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

ETC Voices Podcast 008


KMO talks with Nathanael Johnson about his investigations into the harsh realities of medicalized birth in the United States. Nate also shares a recording he made of Ina May Gaskin talking about the role of midwifery on the Farm and how she discovered her life's work as a midwife and a teacher of midwives.

Music by Old Soul.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Abyss

A year ago I had a very stable routine. Five days a week I would wake up around 9 am and get to work on the next episode of the C-Realm Podcast. Some days I would record telephone interviews, other days I would edit them, on yet other days I went to the Chesapeake City public library to get online and correspond with the other people whose voices grace the program. I put two to three hours into the project most days.

After my daily stint of gratifying work  I would steel myself for the portion of my day that I gave over to alienated labor in the service of a corporate behemouth. I worked my cubicle-serf gig from 3 – 11:30 pm with the better part of an hour's commute each way.  I would arrive home well after midnight, feed the cats, read for a bit, and go to sleep. In the morning, I would get up and do it all over again. On days when I wasn't working my so-called “real job,” I had my two sons with me, and I made no effort to do any work on the podcast when they were with me.

This was a period of high misery for me, but in terms of keeping my creative output high, it worked well. My best mental energy is available to me in the morning, and working nights left my mornings and my best psychic fuel available for my own projects. Having the mornings available for my own creative activity and leaving only the dregs for my corporate employer helped things along, but the key ingredient was social isolation.

That two to three hours which I spent on the podcast each day was almost always completely free from interuption, and I got a lot done. My misery did not stem entirely from my social isolation. I have a high tolerance for solitude, but as I talked on the phone with authors and activists about the need for face to face interaction with neighbors and members of one's real community, I was acutely aware of the irony; the C-Realm Podcast with it's high-minded messages about community grew out of the soil of my own solitude. I longed for the opportunity to spend time with friends doing nothing in particular. I longed for shared meals and physical labor that would yeild tangible benefits for myself and my community. I longed to hear live music performed out of love rather than as paid performance.

I enjoy all of that in abundance now, and I am aware of just how thoroughly my wishes have been granted. I even have chickens in my life. At the same time, the C-Realm Podcast has suffered. For years I received praise from listeners via email expressing their amazement at the consistent high quality of the program. Now I'm getting feedback telling me that the shows have been hit or miss recently, and I didn't really need to be told that. I knew it already.

A year ago, I was doing just the one podcast and blogging haphazardly as often as the spirit moved me. Now I do two weekly podcasts (the C-Realm Podcast and the ETC Voices Podcast) and blog more rigourously, so the mental energy that used to feed one podcast now feeds two podcasts and a blog, but it seems to me that the strain on the C-Realm Podcast comes mainly from the fact that I now have, for the first time in many years, a “life.”

Here at the ETC, I eat three shared meals a day. I regularly enjoy spontaneous live music. I literally live in a forest, and I hear far more bird song than I do roaring engines. We even seem to be outside of any airline flight paths here (although we get our share of black helicopters befouling the audible environment with their noise). It's beautiful here, but it's also complicated. There are people; people who come to me and ask me questions. People who come to me in need of assistance with this task or that. People who come to me for help in interacting with other people. And the phone rings.

From the perspective of my having a life, these are all positive developments. From the perspective of the C-Realm Podcast, KMO's having a life is a problem. What to do?

I realize that it probably seems like I'm winding up to announce a podcasting hiatus. Not so. I have no intention of giving up the podcast that brought me here nor in scaling back the production schedule. People have written to me and suggested that I take longer to gestate each program and only release a new episode when I've got something that I am proud of, but I take pride in maintaining the weekly production schedule. I also believe that the best interview material comes unexpectedly, and I happen across it specifically because the podcast demands to be fed on a regular schedule. Had I not been scrounging to feed the beast, I would have missed out on some of the most stimulating and enlightening conversations that I've had since the Fall of 2006.

It seems that the solution to the problems that arise from an embarassment of social riches is yet more social interaction. I've written this entire essay up to this sentence without interuption because I managed to impress upon the right people with repeated, gentle reminders that I have committed myself to writing at least a thousand words every Saturday and that today is Saturday.

Communication is what I do best, and yet I do less of it with the people around me than I know I should if I want to honor what they do while securing the time and solitude I need to do what I do. I'm not the only person creating content around here. Albert Bates blogs and writes books. Merry, the innkeeper, gives far more of her mental and physical energy to the Ecovillage Training Center than I do, and she not only blogs, but she also shoots, edits, and posts videos.

The biggest challenge for me is in articulating the importance of sticking to my production schedule when I know full well (and I know that everyone else knows) that if I miss one of my self-imposed deadlines and end up posting to this blog on Sunday rather than on Saturday or (God forbid) that I should upload a new episode of the C-Realm Podcast on a Thursday rather than on Wednesday, no buildings will fall into rubble. No children will go hungry. No would-be podcast guest will withdraw her participation. No otherwise generous contributor will think twice about supporting my efforts.

There's just not that much riding on any given deadline, and yet the idea of missing one scares me in a way that the prospect of living without income or not knowing where I will be taking shelter from the elements six months from now does not. Merely entertaining the possibility of faltering in my weekly production of the C-Realm Podcast feels like tottering on the edge of the abyss.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

ETC Voices Podcast 007


Are there bad plants? There are certainly plants I don't want growing in my garden or near where I live, but Cliff Davis has heard enough talk about so-called "invasive plants." He tells KMO why that is, and Albert K. Bates talks about the population surge capacity of the ETC and about the difficulty of putting volunteer labor to productive use.

Music by Old Soul.

Here is the article from the Statesman and the Wikipedia entry from which I read on the podcast.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Armor Class Zero

I'm 42 years old, and I spent the 1980's immersed in imaginary realms accessed through the agency of dice, graph paper, little lead miniatures, and books of tables, charts, graphs, and garish artwork. I'm talking about role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, Gamma World, Traveler, and Champions. I have a friend in Thailand (he's not Thai) who used to play such games but who thinks that the advent of computerized gaming makes the paper and dice gaming obsolete. I couldn't disagree more.

For those thinking, “Wait a second. I came here to read about permaculture, re-localization, peak oil and the like. What's all this fanboy geekery?” All I can tell you is that I'm composing these sentences  while seated at my desk inside my room here in the Inn at the Ecovillage Training Center and that the gaming mania behind this week's blog musings has swept through the ETC population like a mutant cold virus through an elementary school. ETC staff, apprentices, and even guests of the Inn have contracted the bug.

It all started down at the Hippitat, an earthbag and cob cabin with a living roof. The Hippitat is located on the periphery of the ETC grounds just off a trail that leads through the woods and down to the creek. It is a favorite place for people to gather, sit and collect their thoughts. I was sitting with three of the new apprentices enjoying the nature vibe. Sean and Havana ( I call them the “the Wonder Twins”) have taken up residence in the Hippitat, and I was there along with Paul (the first C-Realm listener to take the plunge and sign on for a full two-month ETC apprenticeship) breezily engaged in free range conversation when a mosquito landed on Sean's arm. I pointed it out to him, and as he swatted at it he said, “He can't bite me. I have armor class zero.”

I asked Havana and Paul if they got the reference. Havana did not, but Paul had played the very popular computerized role-playing game, Baldur's Gate, which used the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition rules, and so he was familiar with the notion of armor class. For those of you still in Havana's now-sullied state of pristine ignorance, armor class is a measure of how hard it is to strike a blow against a character or monster in a Dungeons & Dragons game. Someone in street clothes has an armor class of ten, and adding different combinations of armor, shield, and magical items lowers one's armor class. Someone wearing full plate mail armor with a big shield has an armor class of 2, so Sean's claim to having armor class 0 was quite the brag.

I explained armor class to Havana and then lunched into a long-winded, spontaneous rant about the virtues of face to face, paper and dice games versus computer games that claim the mantle of RPG (role-playing game). At it's heart, a session of paper and dice role-playing amounts to the cooperative telling of an adventure story. Each player provides the thoughts, speech and actions of one character in the story, and the GM (game master) describes the setting and plays the parts of all of the people and monsters that the player characters will meet in the course of the story.

Some gamers would take issue with my characterization of a role-playing game as an exercise in group story-telling. For some people, like my friend in Thailand, role-playing games are about killing monsters, collecting treasure, and gaining experience points in order to make one's character more powerful and capable of taking down ever more powerful monsters. These are the power gamers, pejoratively known as munchkin gamers.

The rules to some games are absurdly complex for anyone who isn't an amateur actuary, and the more complex the rules the “crunchier” the game is said to be. Crunchy games lend themselves to rules lawyering where players who have spent countless hours pouring over the rule book(s) deploy their command of game minutia in an on-going contest of wills with the GM. For folks who take this approach, the computer is a godsend. Rolling dice and comparing the results to tables to determine the outcome of any action or event that has even a hint of randomness to it can mean that players spend hours rolling dice, consulting tables and rules-lawyering to play out what amounts to just a few minutes or even seconds of in-game time. Turning the dice-rolling and number-crunching over to a computer lets the power gamer accelerate his progress and exterminate beasties and bad guys in a fraction of the time it would take using paper and dice, and without the needless physical proximity to other humans.

As I wove my tale of conjuring up collaborative fantasy adventure stories, Havana said, “I think you'd make a good GM.” I thanked her and mentioned that I did run a few games when I was in my 20s and that it was a good time.

Then Paul asked the question that started the avalanche. “Is there any possibility of actually experiencing this kind of game here?”

I said that I would be willing to run a game, but the problem was that I didn't have any gaming materials with me, and as gaming companies have learned to tap into the typical fanboy's obsession with “collecting” in order to get them to spend outrageous amounts of money buying multiple rule books and adventure supplements, starting from scratch could be a spendy proposition.

This dampened spirits a bit. None of the appretices were at all keen on spending money on this project, and so I said I would put out some feelers and see what I could find on the cheap, or even better, free. I posted something to my LiveJournal asking for leads on low-cost, rules lite games. Rules lite is the opposite of crunchy. Games that play lite and loose with rules are better suited to actual role-playing and collaborative story-telling than are crunchy games, which lend themselves to rules-lawyering.

I already new about GURPS, the Generic Universal Role-playing System from Steve Jackson Games, and I knew that GURPS lite could be downloaded for free, so I downloaded it, but even a quick inspection of the paired-down GURPS system let me know that it was still way too crunchy for my purposes. I wanted something that would be easy for me to run and easy for novice gamers to grok and get into quickly.

A friend I haven't seen since 1996 wrote to me to suggest SLUG, which stands for “super laid-back universal game.” I read through the one-page rules summary and decided that while I got the appeal of the game, I wanted something just a bit crunchier when it came to combat and magic.

Continuing my quest for the optimal balance between ease of play and satisfyingly crunchy battles I found a game called Prose Descriptive Qualities. The PDQ Core Rules are available for free download, and it comes to all of 12 pages. Reading through them and surfing around for supplemental materials I ended up paying to download Questers of the Middle Realms starter bundle. QMR is a sword and sorcorey game based on the PDQ core rules, and it is very light in tone and pokes good natured fun at the conventions of fantasy literature and gaming. Players take on the roles of familiar fantasy characters like elves, dwarves, orcs and short folk who in this game are called Hoblings (Get it? Hobbits/Halflings?), but each of which is subtly twisted to confound expectations.

 I spent a grand total of $12.45 on the downloaded material. (The money actually came out of my PayPal account, so sponsors of the C-Realm Podcast can rest assured that their contributions to the podcast continue to serve serious ends.) I spent another $16.00 at Office Depot getting my downloads printed out and buying binder clips. I also printed out the GURPS Lite rules, which accounts for about half cost of printing. I spent another $5.00 at Dollar General for notebook paper, pencils, and dice. The dice are the familiar six-sided dice that one would use for Monopoly or craps, and a pack of 5 cost me $0.75.

I spent some time with the printed materials and generated a few NPCs (non-player characters). I then sat down at the kitchen table with permaculture apprentices Joel and Will. I gave Joel the character sheet for Shemp, the placid orc herdsman, and I put Will in charge of Father Fester, the half-Hobling healer and priest.

The purpose here was just to get some practice with the combat system, so as a total throw-away scene I told Joel and Will, “You've both come into town and ended up standing on line waiting for tickets to a show. Two goons cut in line in front of you. What do you do?”

Will, speaking for kindly Father Fester, who concerns himself with the well-being of widows and orphans, said, “I take out my dagger and stab him in the throat.” The fight went on for several rounds, and as it progressed, more people gathered in the kitchen to watch and listen. The fight ended with the two goons fleeing the scene and kindly Father Fester attempting to plant his dagger in the back of a retreating goon. That brief glimpse of the game excited the assembled spectators, and now they're all keen to get started.

In most games, you build your character through a combination of random dice rolls and the calculated expenditure of points on abilities and skills. After the character has been optimized for game mechanics then some token effort might go into providing a touch of backstory. In PDQ, the reverse is true. The character starts out as just that, a character, whose qualities first take form in descriptive prose and only later get “statted out” and converted into numbers to interface with the game mechanics.

Thus far, Merry, the ETC innkeeper has put the most obvious care and effort into envisioning her character, Aralia, the daughter of Marachma, a wealthy Veribah merchant of the desert oasis town, Jewel in the Sand in the land of Ar-Karap. She sent me a 550 word description of Aralia via email. As is typical of a good RPG, thoughts of the characters and upcoming adventures already play a leading role in the imaginings of the staff, apprecitices and guests here at the ETC, even though we have yet to play our first session. “Yes, yes,” says the impatient reader. “How does this answer to the concerns of someone reading an Ecovillage Training Center blog?”

How about this? When peak oil sets in, and the lights go out, you can have a marvelous soulful time listening to live accoustic music and singing along, but at some point, it might be nice to take a break from Kumbaya, heft an imaginary battle axe, and cleave the skull of an orc, hobgoblin, or ghoul who really has it coming. You don't need a computer or an internet connection. If you've got paper, dice, and an idea of how these things go, you don't need to spend a cent. I still remember the details of D&D sessions from 1981, but I drew almost a complete blank the other day when someone asked me about my master's thesis which I left undefended in 1996.

RPGs are definitely not cool, but they RULE!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

ETC Voices Podcast 006


A new round of permaculture apprentices means a new round of community building. KMO talks with Innkeeper Merry, apprentice Paul G, and ecohostel guest Martina W about their hopes for creating community.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Felt Presence of Immediate Experience

I catch myself channeling ideologies; letting them hijack not only the movement of my typing fingers, but also whatever facility I have for clear explanation and lucid communication. These are the faculties that I prize most highly in myself. That said, they are the faculties that I have, in the past, ended up renting to the service of some corporation or another for my economic subsistence. I hate that.

In the service of not channeling an ideology let me tell you about the physical state of KMO. I'm bug-bitten. The ETC permaculture apprentices (the first group of whom has recently left the ETC while the new group trickles in) live in fear of ticks. I have not yet found a tick attached to me this year.  I've caught a few on their initial reconnaissance, before they found a campsite to their liking. I have, instead, become the favorite food for mosquitoes and chiggers. Chiggers are the worst. A cursory check of my left leg just now revealed 27 bites. A mosquito bite, if left un-scratched, will fade in a matter of hours. A chigger bite takes days to run its course.

It's been many years since I last had a tan anywhere except on my forearms, the back of my neck, and those patches of the skin on the tops of my feet that showed through my summer sandals. I recently started wearing a black tank top in an effort to get a bit of sun. My soft, pale upper arms (“post-athletic” is probably the kindest description one could ascribe to my physique) contrasted glaringly with the black tank top.

A couple of days ago, I got a bunch of sun when I rode with Cliff, our designer of constructed ecosystems, to a Home Depot in the town of Franklin. Franklin is basically a suburb of Nashville, and I spent the better part of two hours in the front passenger seat getting an Australian trucker's tan. Or I would have if my skin remembered how to tan. It certainly remembers how to burn, but whatever chemical trick my skin used to employ in order to go brown in the shirtless summer months of my youth it has forgotten. Now it only knows how to go from Irish pale to boiled lobster red.

I slathered it night and day with goo from freshly harvested aloe plants and have, thus far (touch wood), prevented wholesale peeling. My skin backed away from its fiery crimson precipice, eased into a period of strawberry pink, and is now fading, hopefully not all the way back to baseline.

On Wednesday of this week now past, the day each week that I record, edit, and release the C-Realm Podcast, I injured my back while folding a shirt. In recent weeks I've helped move a heavy iron stove, lifted an oversized motorized tricycle into the back of a pick-up truck, and performed other fetes seemingly more perilous than bending slightly at the waist to fold a shirt lying on my bed, but it's always those seemingly innocuous little movements that trigger the muscle spasms that render me pretty much helpless and useless.

Merry, the inn-keeper here is a formerly-licensed massage therapist, and she worked a minor miracle on my back last night, but I still can't sit in any one spot for too long. If I wait too long to stand up, then the muscles in the middle of my back cry, “Enough!” before I've reach my full upright stance. In fact, I'm going to get up now, and not for the first time in this writing.

I'm back. Nothing new in the fridge, and I stopped short of walking to my truck and driving to a nearby store where I know they stock the muscle relaxant known as beer in varieties ranging from the affordable and quite drinkable for those with indiscriminate palates like mine to the $10 a six-pack varieties that I used to drink in my days of abundance and abundant excess and at which I now sneer.

Bug-bitten, sunburned, bad back flare up. And it's hot. No air conditioning at the ETC. It's a slow adjustment to this non-office-cublice life that I pined for and have been granted.

The last few phone interviews that I recorded for the C-Realm Podcast were start and stop affairs. When I recorded a recent conversation with Frank Aragona of the Agroinnovations Podcast, I was standing in the middle of the gravel road at the top of the ETC driveway. It's the nearest place where I can get any cell phone signal, and the sound of a car approaching on gravel translates as a blanket of white noise when picked up via the tiny microphone in my cell phone earbud jack and fractured into innumerable digital packets, transmitted down miles of fiber, re-assembled and piped into the earpiece of Frank's phone in New Mexico. (Imagine what an educated speaker of the English language would have made of that last sentence in 1950.)  Again and again, Frank had to find the thread of his rap and get back into his flow before the next slow swelling of white noise forced him back into silence.

The next day I drove to the Farm Frisbee golf course to find a place with cell reception that does not lie on a heavily trafficked gravel road. I tried conducting a conversation with Tara Holtse from the bed of my pick-up truck, but I had to halt the conversation and flee the site when the mosquitoes discovered me there in the shade of the trees. I ended up parking by the Farm front gate. A continuous stream of cars passed by as I recorded the interview, but at least they were driving past on pavement instead of gravel, and the direct late afternoon sunlight kept the mosquitoes at bay long enough for me to capture enough audio to comprise a C-Realm segment.

“I never knew doing a podcast could be so convoluted,” said Tara.*

Tomorrow, I'm driving to Nashville to collect a C-Realm listener turned ETC permaculture apprentice from the airport. I don't have to be there until 4 pm, but I'm leaving before lunch so that I can record an interview segment with [subject to remain un-named until the interview is in the can] in air-conditioned comfort at the home of the person who has foolishly offered her place as big city crash pad. I intend to arrive early and soak up as much AC and wireless high speed internet (with no bandwidth cap) as I can before forcing myself back out into the sticky heat and discomfort of this so-called Real World that I've taken to comparing so favorably to the disembodied comfort of cyberspace.

G'ah. Ideologies.

*Or words to that effect.