Christmas IX

Quilt with pansies, hand-stitched

Every year we lived in Siloam Springs Allen Canning would plant pansies in the beds outside of their corporate offices along Main Street. They would do this in November, and the flowers would seem to last well into January after snow and ice blanketed them in the early winter months. “They are generally very cold hardy plants surviving freezing even during their blooming period,” Wikipedia says of the plant.

In light of this, I have a hard time understanding how “pansy” became a derogatory term referring to “a weak, effeminate, and often cowardly man.” Seems like a misnomer to me.

Which is why I have no problem with the new quilt hanging in our bedroom, hand-quilted by my mother-in-law. I wonder if they would survive a Nebraska winter?


Christmas VII

The first measurable snowfall of this winter graced the central Nebraska prairie early this morning. Not enough to warrant sledding, but plenty to provide the mystical quiet that comes with the white crystal earth-insulation.

Composition: Snow on kiln brick

The same storm system produced a tornado in a very small town about 12 miles south of Siloam Springs, Arkansas where we lived until last July. Reports now say five people died. The community doesn’t have any civil defense sirens.

Clouds as etching

This past weekend we made another short trip back to Northwest Arkansas to catch up with M-DAT folks before the coming Autumn. While there we walked through a very nice show going up at John Brown University, which included this wonderful rendering of some clouds over a church destroyed during World War I.

Detail of La Calvaire de N---port 1914, an etching by Belgian artist Jules Van de Leene (1887-1962)

Why I root for the little guy in an industrialized society

I’ve been watching a few odds and ends in the Netflix instant watch queue this week [no] thanks to being too sick to climb up and down a ladder with a brush in hand. Just finished the documentary called Food, Inc.

The only way this really relates to this blog is that the documentary is about the industrialization of the food supply, and industrialization (or mass-production) is a recurring theme on The Aesthetic Elevator. It’s interesting to me mainly because I live largely on the opposite end of the spectrum, spending a lot of time creating one-of-a-kind objects, and because it never ceases to amaze me how we’re such eager adopters of new technology that we don’t stop and consider the ramifications of what we adopt — like 90% of soybean farmers planting one genetically modified soybean seed.

The film makes certain accusations against certain companies, and in the case of at least one company whose website I visited they attempted to refute those accusations. I’m generally very skeptical when it comes to such giant bureaucracies in the first place — they’ve largely earned the distrust I have for them.

One of the examples in Food, Inc. talks about chicken farming. Northwest Arkansas, our former stomping ground, is all about growing chickens. The parents of a friend had land with three or four chicken houses. They recently sold the place on account of the exact same complications described in Food, Inc. My friend who shared with me — about four years ago now — how the contracts with companies such as Tyson work could have been in the film. The farmers end up more like indentured servants than independent contractors.

Why should I accept the refutations of the companies in the film when I’ve seen first hand the claims of the film? I don’t want to be the kind of person that has a knee-jerk reaction to every bureaucracy, but they just keep shooting themselves in the foot.

Standing outside of American suburbia

At some point in the last week I saw something that made me think, as I do on occasion, how nice it would be to be pursuing the suburban dream here in America. My wife and I could [in theory] be fairly successful [financially] if we chose to go that route. We both possess degrees in halfway decent paying fields that we have not pursued as avidly as we could have, even though both of us are still using those skills in our work presently. We could be living on the right side of the tracks if we wanted to be.

We chose instead, just after graduating, to serve in mission mobilization with Mission Data International, which we’re still doing. So from the get go we had to raise money for my own fairly frugal salary. My wife became editing manager of our small town newspaper while we raised support, but she quit as we had planned when my student loans were paid off.

I don’t remember exactly what triggered the desire to seek out suburbia this week. It may have been seeing that happy family driving down the road in their newer car, combined with the chaos of moving into a very small house in neighborhood I don’t know anything about.

And now I’m wondering — not for the first time — now I’m asking the question “What is the appeal of suburbia?” Is it merely social pressure or is there more to it? Could it be there is something about the suburban space that hearkens to our subconscious? Is there something in us as humans that yearns for more open spaces (Yes, I know I’m posting this just after suggesting I miss downtown living.)? In recent years I’ve become a little less of a critic of the American suburbs, realizing we can’t just summarily do away with them and wondering, as already stated, if they came into being and proliferated with some substance beyond the greed of speculative developers.

My wife and I certainly have our reasons for intentionally standing outside of the typical pursuit of American suburbia, keyword here being pursuit. Our own interests, passions, point our time and efforts towards ends that, while still personal, attempt to look beyond our own comfort. We hope to be a counterculture for the common good. While this can be done — and should be done by people who feel called to it — in the context of the suburbs, it’s not where we’re at.

As an aside, another aspect of this week’s enigmatic desire to have a suburban life — which the wife very accurately pointed out has enough problems of its own since it’s also populated by people — might a sense of isolation I’ve had over the past few months. Working a more or less full time job away from the computer (along with still working my part-time M-DAT job mobilizing, breaking in a puppy and moving) has taken more getting used to than I expected. I miss blogging, being able to read blogs, being able to read substantial articles on the arts or theology during the week. I’m not a news junky by any stretch of the imagination, but I was disappointed to learn just this morning (in an email from M-DAT HQ) that there was a volcano disrupting air travel for mission trips. We also miss our network of artistically inclined friends back in Northwest Arkansas.

How any of this relates to a desire for a suburban life, which is typically associated with isolation itself, I don’t know. But my mind seems to want to make some kind of connection to it at the moment.

On place, moving, living incarnationally

It’s been just over six months since we moved back to Nebraska from the little town of Siloam Springs, Arkansas and

You just don’t know how connected you are to a place until you leave it.

When we moved to Siloam Springs I didn’t expect to become attached to such a small community, in Arkansas, nestled into them thar hills.

What I learned is that it’s easier, in some ways, to become a part of a smaller community. And that it’s the people that make the community what it is in large part. This is no revelation to me or anyone else who’s considered the topic, but living in Arkansas was my first adult experience, so to speak, far apart from a culture that I knew.

Granted, there were some ups and downs in our relationship with the place, but the same can be said for every relationship. And there is a little more to it than just the people, especially to a visual geek (what’s the visual equivalent of “audiophile?”) like myself. For Siloam, it helped greatly to have a liberal arts university, a quaint downtown in the midst of restoration, centrally located parks with a creek running through them etc.

So at this point I’m wondering how quickly a person can become an integral part of a different — and larger — community and by what means. I have an advantage here in Grand Island having lived here for a couple years during high school, but the same could be said for the move to Arkansas, going back to the town where my wife graduated from college. However, we’re not all that convinced we’ll be here for much more than a year as we wait for certain doors to open (or not open).

What we are convinced of is that we miss Siloam Springs — with the exception of the allergens.

Music and the contemplative life

In recent years I’ve lamented how music has less and less a place in my life, especially in comparison to my college years when I’d buy a new album and listen to it clear through within the first week. Headphones on, uninterupted. In some ways there were fewer distractions back then — no TV, no Wii, no blog or Facebook or Twitter — and more time to give to arts other than my own.

My wife voiced the same lament again, though, in the past month. We probably pay attention to music during the Christmas season more than any other time of year, so it was on her mind. She also comes from a much more musical family than I (my family tends towards the visual arts).

After she said that I had some music on, I think it was Christmas music playing on Epiphany while we took the tree down, and I made note of a link between the enigmatic art of music and the contemplative life. Music can help me focus. Focus will be different depending on the style; that is, Saviour Machine will produce a different kind of direction in thought than Bach.

Music is part of a contemplative life, whether played or listened to.

When we moved back up to Nebraska we knew we’d miss being around some of the musicians we knew in Northwest Arkansas: Traci Letellier, Fool For Now, David Farley, Jamey Clayberg (aka Herva). It was great having very talented musicians in our local circle of friends. Nebraska has its own including Rob Martinson II with The Hatchbacks. Also here in central Nebraska is Leesha Harvey, who I’d like to meet some day.


Storm from the rooftop

Posting as I’m able this week. Glanced at the radar after still more packing this evening — we’re pretty close to done now, so hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy our time with company and social engagements of the next few days — and noticed a little action immediately south of town.

July 2009 storm from roof

From our roof it was probably the most photogenic storm of the year for me. I didn’t watch it all that long though. Low hanging clouds crept in front of it and obscured my view, beside the fact it was almost dark.

Last update on downtown Siloam Springs

This will likely be the last update before we move on downtown Siloam Springs, at least made by me (hopefully my cobloggers will pick up some of the slack). While out hunting for boxes to pack up the house, I noticed stucco has begun to appear on what will very soon be Emelia’s restaurant.

Emilia's in progress

A human’s first “non-need”

In my first college design class, as an architecture student, one of our projects involved researching of and writing about chairs. We read about designs by Eames, Bertoia, Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and so forth. Our professor pointed out that a chair, or somewhere to sit our sorry plebian butts after a long day in the field, is the first thing we will think of to buy or build assuming all of our other needs are met.

And I think she was right.

As we pack up the house we’re selling some things we won’t need in the foreseeable future, or won’t have room for in our upcoming living space. I used Craigslist, which I’m pretty new to, and easily sold our guest bed and couch.

We really miss the couch.

We own other comfortable chairs, but apparently they aren’t comfortable in the same way. The plan was to replace it with a svelte black leather couch that wouldn’t aggravate my allergies like the whimsical, eight year old model we just sold. However, I was looking forward to one less large piece of furniture to move.

So the past few days I’ve been on a hunt to find a cheap and temporary replacement, most likely a comfy chair for the wife to read in. There are a couple places in town that sell used, and I’ve been to a few garage sales as well. So far everything I’ve seen has been dirty or overpriced — or entirely hideous. The one exception was a blue recliner at a friend’s yard sale; unfortunately it formerly lived with cats, which I’m quite allergic too. Another vintage store in town, Amandromeda, purveys a number of well designed seats, though none are suitable for extended periods of time with a book in your lap. I’ve also inquired via Craigslist and the Facebook Marketplace to no avail.

Next up I plan to hit a vintage spot in Fayetteville called the Flying Dog. Moving is stressful enough without a decent place to rest your rump, so I hope I can come up with a chair on this holiday weekend!