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

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

hanging out, letting loose

the last month has brought some new challenges and opportunities, many of which i could not have undertaken had i solely remained in my professional career as a certified land use planner. i have become increasingly involved in the media as a writer and editor for Project Laundry List's Hanging Out! newsletter, in which capacity i find myself --finally, where as a geographer i feel i always belonged, but as a land use planner was prevented from doing so - in the middle of the environmental movement. yes, you may think it odd that a planner is 'not allowed' to embrace environmental ideals and apply them. after all, isn't it the mission of planners, and written in the aicp code of ethics, to 'have special concern for the long-range consequences of present actions' and 'pay special attention to the interrelatedness of decisions' and moreover, 'to conserve and preserve the integrity and heritage of the natural and built environment'? actually, the old, pre-2005 code had stronger language than was watered down by apa in march of 2005. i tried to preserve the foregoing, but was stymied again and again by the people who signed my paychecks. over time, it became impossible to reconcile what i knew was right with what i was observing on the ground. i became no more than a cog in the wheel of constant permitting; my body of environmental knowledge was not only not sought, it was not wanted. it is the main reason i left the profession in june of 2005.

The issue of line-drying laundry unfortunately became a symbol of poverty sometime in the past 30 years in America, and has therefore been banned or severely limited in thousands of communities and homeowner's associations. this, even though there are many of us who associate line-drying with nostalgic childhood memories of home, not to mention the sweet smell of sunshine-drenched towels and bed linens. as a planner, i had been frustrated for years being caught between ordinances and the public too many times, seeing the regulations enacted by short-sighted organizations and public officials chopping away at the roots of citizens to live their lives --and care for their homes and property as they saw fit --one invasive, prohibitive sentence at a time. the covenants adopted by myriad homeowner associations are in many cases outright authoritarian and extremely restrictive to the point of being fascist, in my humble planner's opinion. many of these restrictions are hidden in the back pages of monumental layers of paperwork signed by buyers in the midst of the excitement of owning the property, and are not discovered --or actually read --until a representative knocks on their door, alerting them to an "aesthetic problem." these can range from the location of vegetable garden plots to the size and construction materials of doghouses, to the outright prohibition of laundry lines.

in retrospect, i am glad i had the experience of seeing the wheels of government turning from the inside out. i can verify the suspicions of many: that government does not serve those it was designed to protect, it caters to the wealthy. but not in the way many think - it is an inefficient mechanism for big brotherhood. that honor belongs to big business, who merely assures that the regulatory and political yes-men are in place to approve and give credence to their greedy outcomes.

but all this is happily undergoing change, which i have been shouting about now for years to anyone who would listen. people thought me a charming cassandra, they would pat my head and say, 'there, there. don't get so upset. it'll never get that bad.' but i knew that it would. my educational background as a geographer was either completely invalid or the mighty were going to run smack up against mother nature at some point. and see, i was right. so glad i am now in a position to lead people to the answers they are so desperately seeking now. all around us, people are wondering what to do. not to worry --most are simple changes. like hanging out laundry. raising a flock of chickens. planting a garden. looking for new value in the simple things in life - writing a poem, going for a walk, reading to your children. i saw a group of neighbors last week doing something i'd not seen for ages: playing horseshoes, outside, on a weekday evening. bravo - much to be preferred over electronic evening entertainment of any sort.

i wonder if the homeowner covenants in their neighborhood have anything to say about that.