Wednesday, July 16, 2008


You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

* * *

Sometimes a book comes along at just the right moment.

For me, today's book is Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden And Your Neighborhood into a Community.

I spent yesterday complaining about happy-happy talk--but now I finally get what my partner David was trying to explain to me after he read my post.

He kept saying that stating things in the positive made it possible to move toward what you want to build. And I kept saying that the difference between saying you don't want to hurt something versus you do want to help it doesn't make any difference in how one decides to act.

So he goes to work and Son and I sit on the couch to read next to each other.

I pick up Heather Flores's book and just roll my eyes one (last) time as I start this quote: "Much of the work [done by activists] was about stopping something--logging, mining, violence, et cetera--and not much seemed to focus on starting real alternatives."

Yes, yes, whatever--I think. "But we must respond to the crises of logging, mining, violence, et cetera. That is what often produces true change!" I want to whine at the author.

But then, I got it, understood what she was saying. I sat up. My eye-rolling suddenly stopped and I heard Melinda telling me to stop complaining and start finding solutions.

Yes--that is it! One must define the problem, often in the negative, and then try to move forward with it. Not abandon it and not ignore it--but solve it. Sometimes the solution to changing the world is working hard to stop something. That is a positive step all by itself.

If one gets too stalled, either in the negatives or the positives, one cannot make a difference. You can cry all day, you can whistle Dixie--or you can actually work (even if it is just on ideas). As Flores says in her book, "Dreams of industrial collapse became prayers for communities feeding and healing themselves."

* * *

So I'm all for accentuating the positives of the future--but in crafting that future, we absolutely can't "eliminate the negative" as Disney would have it in the song.

We cannot abandon our efforts for positive change. But building that better future happens not through dreams or hope alone. It happens because of analysis of the past and present, analysis of plans. It happens because of hard work in the dirt, because sweat and mosquitoes don't stop you. (Hrumph. They stopped me today.) Dreams only become reality when we get past the simplicity of both the positives AND the negatives and on with the real building of what we want and need, as individuals and as a community.

So just call me Mister In-Between.


leslie said...

I have a peculiar (by others standards) habit of picking up litter.
I don't care what car window it was tossed from...I don't like the way it rests in my visual field, so I pick it up.

My litter picking won't solve any big world problem, but it makes my walk nicer looking.

No one has tried to stop me from doing my pro-active litter picking, and should they, I promise to put it all back!

Oh. And I am sooooo not a happy happy type of person...

Mikaiya said...

Aaah... I am so using this and your last post in my upcoming post about Tikkum Olam.

Stay tuned, I guess? Can't blog at work. But I've been thinking a lot on exactly these lines- and I've been skipping SSK for a class on Kabbalah and discussions just like this- so maybe it's the summertime heat, jumpstarting us into equating negative and positive and thinking differently about change.

The Purloined Letter said...

Mikaiya--Thanks so much for connecting some of the things I've been thinking about to tikkun olam. Given my serious belief issues and current practice issues, your comments are exactly what I need to hear right now. Looking forward to your post.

Veggie Mom said...

I started recycling in my classroom, bringing the bag home each night to put out by the curb when our local recycling trucks come by. The school eventually took a hint and started a schoolwide recycling program. My daughter, who is a summer lifeguard, started recycling at the pool--we just got the news that the community center's board of directors is going to implement a center-wide program!

Melinda said...

This post made me smile. Thanks for this. It is exactly what I'm feeling.

OfTroy said...

Keep your lawn (or a bit of it)

but plant lettuce as border plants, and Pole beans in the corners of the 'flower beds'

Asparagas is fine looking plant.. a beautiful back drop in the garden (after a spring harvest)

Herbs too, are beautiful.

Who needs pots full of impatients?
why not pots full of chives and basil, and parsley and mint?

You can have a conventional lawn and flower beds.. (at first glance)
and you can have a perennial vegetable garden at the same time!

(rhubarb, fennel, rosemary, oregino, lavender, chives.. (not to mention blueberries! and other small fruits!) can be be a natural part of your garden --and turn a wastefull "lawn" into something somewhat (at first glance) conventional--and still allow you to change.

The Purloined Letter said...

It is so nice to hear everyone talking about their sometimes small and sometimes large changes, and how much they mean to them!

OfTroy is absolutely right about making a beautiful food garden that also serves one's aesthetic needs. Wanna come design our front yard?

Carrie K said...

Last post thoughts: I think that atheism is unacceptable to some religious individuals because they can't bear that you don't agree with them or that they truly believe that you're going to hell and that really is a bad thing. Who would stand by with that kind of threat over someone's head?

OTOH, MYOB. I'm Lutheran, I have atheist friends, Catholic friends, Wiccan friends, agnostic friends......someone's religion is not what I look for in a friend.

Happy talk is almost used with the same kind of zealotry, but I think that it's meant more in the old cliche, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Chile said...

I completely get what you're saying. I've gotten the reputation as a cynic because I do focus on the negative. However, I am a problem solver by nature so, as soon as I see the negative, I am working on ways to solve it. I continue to bring up the negatives because many people are in complete denial that they even exist so they see no problem to solve, ie. no need to change their ways.


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