life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Friday, April 15, 2005

continuing the rant

Dear Ones:

Thank you again for listening to my rant yesterday afternoon. It was so nice to come in this morning and read all the lovely posts, both on & off list. I am happy to report I am quite mollified by your empathy, and have decided that maybe I will stick it out awhile longer. At 5 p.m. yesterday I was missing the good old days of being chased out of an Alabama swamp (where we were doing housing counts for a CDBG low-mod water & sewer extension application) by concerned citizens in a pickup truck with four gun barrels hanging out the windows, pointed straight at us. No, really! Let me explain:

I remember how lovely the sky looked that day, how the wind was riffling through the soybean plants in the field alongside our rapidly retreating vehicle, and in spite of the momentary dismay & excitement, felt as if I had done something worthwhile & taxpayers' money was very well spent in those days. I could look at a new elevated water tank in an old downtown and say, "I helped to put that there." Things like that went a ways towards helping the infant mortality rate in one of our counties actually dip below that of Bangladesh. I made maps of county water systems, held public hearings on landfill sites, had eggs & tomatoes thrown at me at public hearings & was called a communist for writing one town's first zoning ordinance. I observed straight-pipe septic systems, saw people living in tarpaper shacks, and visited old people who had no floor in their houses with 7 half-naked children clustered around the TV set. (I was told "no one here goes without a television set. That would be uncivilised.") At times I felt as if all I could do was listen and commiserate. But then a year later I could go back & visit those same houses in their fresh blue paint & new front porch & roof and smile and feel like I had done something. Back then, need had a face that I could look into and learn from. As poor as the people were, they had dignity, and they were decent folk.

So when the question is posed, why don't we planners do something, or do more? I realize it is a challenge to be met. I also realize that I don't have the tools to deal with it. The questions have changed, the needs are different now. And maybe I don't care about these people I am supposed to be helping as much as the old ones. Now it is all about playing a game, pushing the pen, saying the right words, making people happy so they don't call the congressman. And the need is no longer dignified, it isn't even honest need. It's just want.

Remember the "two twin imps" of Dickens' Christmas story? They were "ignorance" and "want." You may feel the outraged, concerned citizens mentioned in the opening of this story typify both ignorance and want. However, I beg to differ. All in all, they were protecting what they saw as their dearest possession, to which every ounce of need, purpose, and passion was tied: their land. And, by the way, it must be noted, these guys didn't feel they were in need at all, and had purpose and passion in abundance. All they knew was someone was trespassing in the area, and their first instinct was to remove that outside invasion. Trespassers may bring change, and change may not always be good, and in any case it's a pain in the butt, I imagine they were thinking. Would that we had just left, and done nothing, instead of applying for the federal money that brought the public water & sewer to the area. Do any of you know how the story ends? I don't, but I can guess. The public utilities brought with them economic development, in the form of investment in commercial industry, which brought jobs. Jobs brought prosperity, which in the end just brought more want, in the form of fast cars, disposable diapers, fast food restaurants. It made the land more valuable, even desirable to outsiders, who moved in & put up brick houses and demanded better schools for their children. Building the schools caused the locality to have to raise taxes above what the old-timers could afford to pay, and brought services they hadn't known existed before, such as permitting procedures. So the people sold the land, made lots of money, and moved away, taking with them the community that had been there for decades. What was left were people who worked at the new industry, alongside some of the remnants of the former community (the ones who didn't have enough land to subdivide & become rich off of), and when the industry closed its doors and moved to Mexico, everybody was left sitting in a big pile of their own, self-created want. And the guys in the pickup truck, who previously had been hard-working farmers but became millionaires when they sold the land (aka their purpose, passion, & need); retired & moved to Myrtle Beach, partied for 18 months straight, and died sitting in a hot tub with their noses full of cocaine. Crazy? No, just an amalgamation of several stories I've collected over the years. Scope for my novel.

Because in the end, we just go around chasing after want. I maintain, it's the needs of people that we are too ignorant to recognize, and so need, the purpose, the passion... goes unfulfilled.

Thanks for being there. Maybe we'll figure it out if we work together & share what we know.

Best regards,

the yankees are comin'

This is forwarded from the NC Plan mailing list, where this week, the discussion focused on the Census Bureau's new findings.

David Stein wrote:
"North Carolina continues to have a highly ambivalent attitude toward planning - we do it with great reluctance in many cases, and avoid it entirely elsewhere. The continuing game in which taxes from new development is used as a tool in setting up bidding wars between communities or between incorporated and unincorporated areas has allowed development to maximize the externalities they create: long term costs borne by tax payers as a class rather than by the newer homes that cause the costs. This leads to sprawl, leap frog development, air and water pollution, and traffic congestion, not to mention pedestrian unfriendly environments. Note how many supposedly "new urbanist" subdivisions are miles from any real center of activity. North Carolina is also a beautiful place, with an attractive climate, many good jobs (at least for the well educated who can afford new homes), plenty of willing developers who are unwilling or unable to put the pieces together, and local governments unable to get past the anti-tax climate that would allow them to do better planning and development guidance. Yes, there are exceptions, but in observing the scene closely for several years as a transplanted Californian (and no, we win no prizes there, either), I am saddened by the inability of our profession to get ahead of the curve and make the case for not just "smart" growth, but for very much smarter policies on land use management, transportation, health, education and economic activity. We need to recognize that the population has grown dramatically, and to rethink the nature of our development process. To what extent does the "right" of the property owner to maximize individual profit exclude the right of the community at large to avoid economically untenable patterns of development. Why can't we use common sense a bit more often: we know the consequences of haphazard, poorly sited development, yet somehow we seem to be making exceptions for each case that comes along. Even when we go to great lengths to improve a project, we still seem to only be able to make it less objectionable rather than truly an improvement. Look at the "new" development on the site of the formerly proposed "Coker Towers" in Raleigh: months of negotiations still left us with a project that it vastly over-scale for the site, with little public access despite its density, and located where public transit will never be a meaningful option. Or the almost gleeful pattern of continued annexation at the outer edges (Raleigh now touches Rolesville!) which can only undermine the billion plus the city is causing to be invested in its downtown. Isn't there a point at which we can figure out how to do the right think rather than just please everyone or even worse, avoid displeasing anyone "important"?I know it is hard, and that one must listen carefully to the political pressures on local councils, but still, we have not done our job very well if the term smart growth is largely a term of ridicule, the NC Smart Growth Alliance has had to fold up its tent, and the state has yet to mandate appropriate planning legislation for all counties and municipalities."

Thursday, April 14, 2005

a purpose

i am defining the hows and whys, the direction of this venue. i have never traced the path of my life, and it is possible that by doing so i will find answers to questions that haven't been answerable heretofore. and thus perhaps i will be able to find more answers, such as, where does my world go from here? and are there any answers i can give to the worlds' questions?

the census bureau has published figures that show that our county made the top 25 fastest growing in the states. dubious distinction. and the commissioners are so mad about it they have shut down the development community --taken their ball & gone home, so to speak. i am laughing up my sleeve, being a child about it. i take my joys where i find them, and do not apologize.

the needleworker in me sees a parallel between those beautiful landscapes and some of the wonderful older neighborhoods in my community: they are like embroidery upon the canvas of the rural landscape. not so the newer absurdities. they defy description; i cannot reconcile them with anything useful or good. they are merely manifestations of greed.

but i digress. first, this is about me, it is a lesson i need to learn. i am a private person, i shut down descriptions of myself even in my own mind. but something pulls me onward to disclose this biography, and make it parallel with my search for meaning. i will post next my favorite picture of my younger self. it has always said more than i could say with words. i remember being shocked when i first saw it, and a little embarrassed. certainly it showed more vulnerability than i cared to admit. but damn, i looked good, didn't i?

innocence in black and white

susannah... at one time, i was going to be a ballerina. this was during that time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

a well-grounded child

meaning, of course, that i was certainly familiar with the ground. this is where it all began, i think. i remember the day my father took these pictures, i can smell the green grass in my grandmother's yard as surely as if i were there right now. i can feel its cool quickening beneath my cheek, scratching across my shoulder blades as I twisted about to look up at the sky. how much time did you spend looking at the sky when you were young? i believe it was this grounding, this looking up while being so firmly set down that began my love affair with the earth.

 Posted by Hello

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

late and overbooked

it is the wee hour and i should be abed... however, as is my habit anymore, it is late and i am overbooked. i am going to bed soon anyway. no utter musings tonite, i will be up too early tomorrow morning to be able to give the energy now to form any sort of cogent ramblings. my brain so full of things to do, to think, to say, to ponder. my list so long. had been several days since i opened this and thought it worthwhile to at least touch base again. leaving the light on, so to speak.

unfamiliar as i am with this venue, i have been reading thru several weblogs of those who were here before me. how profound some of them are. being such a private person i cannot even explain fully why i am writing here. i know some who would think it imprudent, ill-advised, at the very least undesirable. however, i have met some of the nicest people online, even going back into the 1990s, some of my best and truest friendships were formed thru email lists. this type of forum wasn't even around then, so i hold out for some future friendships, much as was hinted by the friend who wrote the first comment in my "book." that, and i do write better than i speak. communication is something with which i struggle, either assuming a dialogue formed by rote that rolls off my tongue without thinking, or stammering out phrases that are half-caught in my throat. either way it's painful, and less useful than annoying.

ta. i am off to bed, before it rains again. the drumming helps me to sleep. i will write again sooner than later. but meanwhile, if i do not, i am reading someone else's words.

Monday, April 04, 2005

first post

good morning.... and a fine one it is. in the small town office where i work it is far too fine a morning to be inside, but that is where the work is. i try to be philosophical about it, people have always complained about work, and i am no exception. however, i believe in work, i believe in the fulfillment gleaned from tasks performed well, in being productive, but not just for the sake of being busy. it is a simple joy to involve ones' hands, heart, and mind in worthwhile tasks, both mental and physical.

i much prefer sewing to government service. however, i have yet to figure out a way to feed my family with needle and thread. so from time to time i may ruminate on the loss of physical work in our society. i think that is part of our problem...

on to be happy with the day. if i don't make something of it, who will?