Getting my hands dirty

You may notice that I haven't posted much since the snow melted (I can’t even remember when that was now). I've been spending a lot of time this spring and summer working in our yard, which is something I missed in the four years I lived in an apartment. It’s very satisfying being able to do physical work, and to see tangible results. It’s also very rewarding to see plants grow and fill out over the season, and to plan for what to plant next.

While I have struggled with concentration, focus and energy in writing and other mental work for some time now, focusing on tangible, physical projects has been less of a challenge. That’s not to say I have limitless physical energy; I find that after a day or two working in the yard I do get exhausted, and need to significantly dial back my efforts before beginning again. Seeing the results, however, creating something physical, is helpful in staying focused and keeping a goal in sight.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had is finding my limits, and working within them. There are some days when I work up tremendous enthusiasm about something, often related to some meeting I’ve been to, or something inspiring I’ve seen or heard. I get grand ideas and ambitions, and my mind will sometimes run off without waiting for the rest of me to catch up. In these situations I am rarely able to sustain energy for these ideas for more than a day or two, and often find myself pulled back, into feeling down, a kind of despair about whether what I’m doing is actually something I want to spend my energy on, or to invest my time in.

Part of this, I understand, is perspective and perseverance, deciding on something important and committing to work towards it. Part of it though, to be fair, is also a recognition that being constantly on the go, being frenetically busy, is draining to me, and does not make me happy.

Finding my happy place

What does make me happy is working towards something I believe in, something that I think is important. While I have always tended to the political left, such as it is, in recent years I have increasingly identified with something akin to libertarian socialism or anarchism. This may seem peculiar, coming from someone with a Masters degree in Public Administration, but I think it is my exposure to the workings of government that has accelerated my drift towards the libertarian left. To me, the way governments work increasingly reminds me of the popular definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. While this feels like a recent realization, in retrospect, it may not be that new.

I have come to realize that I am not nearly as astute at understanding my own interests and motivations as I sometimes credit myself for being. Looking back, I can see this interest in decentralized, cooperative societies crystallizing early on.

I had a very early interest in the potential of “virtual spaces” for bringing people together, particularly those affiliated with social interest groups, to allow social justice advocates to wield a more proportional influence in policy discussions. One of my other interests in university was the concept of freedom of information as a means to ensure open and transparent dialogue between citizens and their representatives. I was also interested in the political participation of marginalized groups, including studying the voter turnout of First Nations people in Federal elections in my research and statistical analysis class.

And yet, nothing I did after graduation acknowledged these interests, or informed my career choices (notably interrupted and influenced as they were by a cancer diagnosis).

In the last year or so, I have noticed something that has reinforced the feeling that I have let myself get off track. While I have been ostensibly focusing on the craft of writing fiction, I have found that, for the most part, I don’t enjoy reading fiction nearly as much as I pretend to. Certainly, there are books that I enjoy, and am glad to have read. Most often these are novels and stories with a very strong social, political or philosophical point of view. More often than not, I find myself struggling to keep reading. Meanwhile, I’m constantly picking up this or that non-fiction book, or thinking about issues I want to address or write about.

The enjoyment I have gotten from working outside this spring, some of the realizations I’ve had about my limits, and the lessons I have been slow to learn about what stimulates me, have gotten me thinking differently about how to focus my energy. I think issues such as building walkable and resilient communities, growing food locally, and encouraging cooperative and sharing economies are important. And, while it is tempting to let my mind wander back and forth across these issues, I think I need to start small and get my own house in order first.

Starting at home

This year I have made an effort to run some of the errands for our house with my trike and trailer, and I want to learn from this experience about what is needed to make our city more “active transportation” friendly. I have planted food in our yard and, while it’s been a little messy and experimental this year, I look forward to learning from the process, improving next year and, maybe somewhere down the road, encouraging others on the street to plant their yards too. I’ve also become interested in the Little Free Library movement, and I like the idea of sharing books and information in the community. I discovered that there are already LFLs on the streets on either side of ours, and I’m looking forward to setting one up in our yard as well.

There has always been a part of me that wants to change the world. Of course changing the world, or even government policies, can be a painfully frustrating and futile experience. Something that is more immediately rewarding is leading by example, making changes that are within my control, or at least my sphere of influence. It is also exciting to be able to share the changes made, and examples set, by others. This is something that I’ve understood at some level for a long time, but haven’t been consistently good at staying focused on. I know that when I lose focus on what I can actually control I can get frustrated. And when I lose focus on WHY I am doing something, why I am blogging about something, I can quickly lose motivation.

Blogging about the issues that are important to me has always been enjoyable for me. While sometimes that sort of blogging has felt like self-indulgent ranting, I think by keeping a focus on the practical – what I and others can do, in our own little sphere of influence – will help my blogging feel a little more relevant.

And who knows, maybe, in time, I will be able to help make some change in the world. Or in my community. Or even just on my street.

I’ve got to start somewhere.