Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Please excuse the mess

Really, it’s more of a metaphorical mess as we go about the business of steering the beast that is Innisfree on the Stillwater in a new direction.

What does that direction look like? Well, we’re now share-cropping organic row crops, raising wool and meat sheep instead of cattle, and transitioning to perennial permiculture over annual monoculture.

The goal is to make our farm a model for what the future of sustainable farming can look like. Until then, it might seem like a mess.

DLH

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Worldview: Random thoughts from a wandering mind: You’re so angry, you probably think this post is about you…

(With apologies to Carly Simon…)

So, here it goes: everybody is offended these days and it’s likely nobody who doesn’t already agree with you cares.

I’m guilty of it. So are you. So is almost everyone, especially if you are any kind of user of social media. We’re all angry and we’re not going to take it anymore.

Except, yes we are.

There’s a curious thing about offendedness in the current era. For the most part, people are angry and they’re doing things because of their anger. The problem is that most of the things they’re doing don’t end up doing anything about the things they’re angry about.

Instead, their efforts come down to various measures of passive-aggressive uses of force to compel others into doing things their way without making much attempt at all to convince those who may disagree of their point of view. These are, at best, hollow and Pyrrhic victories that sow the seeds of future discord and backlash.

And so we’ve entered an era of hurling insults, casting stones, passing laws, and generally brutalizing one another without any real effect.

Well, any real effect except one: the perception things are getting worse is a direct result of this nonsensical process.

This is not to say there are not real reasons to be concerned about the state of the world or to even be angry about that state. Rather, it is to call into question the way we are dealing with it. The preponderance of evidence is that the problems are real but that our responses to them are ineffective.

History shows us many things, and one of the things it shows us most is that anger and force rarely accomplish the things they set out to in the long run. What most effectively changes the course of events is dialog and compromise. What makes things better is the active attempt to make things better.

Until we set aside our angry offendedness and start looking at how we’re going to actually fix the things we find wrong with society and the world, all we are going to end up with is more angry offendedness.

The irony is that your choice of action will be defined by how you respond to this post, even if I never know what it is. Is this post about you?

DLH

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Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Taming a tangled wilderness

We’re unusually free with sharing our successes and failures here at Innisfree on the Stillwater, a fact that is intentional and purposeful rather than naive and dramatic. You see, our desire, along with giving people access to quality, sustainably grown food is also to help educate the vast majority of people who don’t understand what it takes to grow their food exactly what it takes to grow their food.

In addition to some thinking we’re arrogant for having such a goal, one of the classic responses we get, especially to failures, is that we don’t know what we’re doing. The irony, to a point, is that these critics are right, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

As it turns out, we don’t know what we’re doing because the knowledge of what we’re trying to do, in many cases, has been almost entirely lost, sometimes intentionally. Over the past several decades, there has been a radical revolution in agriculture almost unheard of since the invention of agriculture itself, and often not always for the better. This revolution has happened so quickly that the knowledge got lost before it got written down.

The result has been tragic, from loss of crop diversity so severe that entire annual crops are now entirely clones to animals so closely bred for specific genetics that they die from eating food they’re supposed to be able to eat, along with a population now so far removed from the realities of what it actually takes to feed them that this all seems normal to them.

We don’t know what we’re doing because we’re on the frontier trying to create a bulwark against the threats these kinds of changes represent. We understand we’re not going to overturn or replace those realities, but we also know some level of that knowledge must be salvaged or rediscovered or the potential for disaster is real and imminent.

So yes, we admit our ignorance, not as a condemnation of ourselves, but as a bellwether of the risks we all face. We do this because we desperately want to learn before it’s too late and for others to understand the risks we all face.

Perhaps that makes us arrogant, but the fact is that explorers and discoverers have always had to be to succeed at what they’re trying to do. We accept that aspersion and the challenge it represents because the task must be done.

DLH

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Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: A state of mind

For me, the biggest downside of farming is that my health doesn’t always agree with it, mostly in the form of sometimes debilitating allergies. People often ask me why I keep doing it knowing that I will periodically subject myself to such suffering, and my most often answer is that it’s just a temporary state.

For example, for the past few days, I’ve been doing hay. It turns out that whoever coined the term “hay fever” wasn’t kidding, and as is the case nearly every year, right now I feel like I’m coming down with the flu. I know a lot of people would consider such a reaction to the task to be a deal breaker, but what I discovered a long time ago is knowing this will last, at most, a couple of days, gives me the willpower both to inflict it on myself and to endure it while it lasts.

What I’ve discovered as a result is that hay fever is kind of a metaphor for farming and that farming is a kind of metaphor for life. Sure, sometimes the process sucks, but the fact is the work needs done, somebody has to do it, and the results are usually worth even a little suffering to get there.

So it is and so it goes, pardon me while I wipe my nose.

DLH

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Worldview: Random thoughts from a wandering mind: The scale of talent to skill

Most of us find ourselves in awe of those videos of a little kid, maybe just five years old, who can sit down at a piano and pound out a Mozart sonata like he was born with the instrument in his hands. We marvel at such raw talent, and some of us might even feel a little jealous we don’t have it.

And sure, while most of us weren’t playing Mozart when we were five, the fact remains that most of us, given enough desire, determination, and practice, could learn to play that sonata at some point. While we may not have the talent, we do have the capacity to learn the skill.

I pick the musical example on purpose because it represents a category of endeavor where so many of us marvel at the notion of natural talent while ignoring the possibility of finely crafted skill. We tend to see undertakings like music and art and many skilled crafts as the purview of talented artisans even when we are otherwise interested in them.

While talent can give someone a head start in such endeavors, I posit that it is the development of skill that gives anyone, talented or otherwise, the tools to succeed. To me, talent is a starting point on a line defined by skill. Talented people start with natural skill.

Why is that important? Because, I believe, anything can be learned by anyone, as I mentioned earlier, given enough desire, determination, and practice. Yes, those three things may be lacking, and as a result, a skill may not be successfully honed, but that does not mean it cannot be.

So, the next time you marvel and someone else’s talent and wonder if you could ever do that, try. Find out. If you really want to, you might surprise yourself.

DLH

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Worldview: Philosophy: Send in the clones…

I had a far ranging debate last night that, among its several features, touched on clones. They weren’t what that debate was really about, and this post isn’t really what that debate was about. But, it got me thinking about how we think about clones.

I suspect, if pressed to give an off-the-cuff answer, most of us would describe a clone as a copy. And, because we think of them as a copy, we tend to think of them as being some kind of facsimile of the original. As such, we imagine them having many of the same characteristics of the original, even going so far as imaging them to have the same personality or even memories.

The reality of clones are far more complex. For clones gestated from contributed biological material, the similarity to the original may only be as much as that biology allows, which can often be far less than we imagine. Even with exact biological similarity, time, nature, and experience will mold the clone into something ultimately independent of the original beyond the constraints biology creates. Even if, somehow, the clone is an exact biological and experiential replica of the original, the moment it becomes independent, it becomes individual.

I think our preconceptions about things like clones speak to our preconceptions about a lot of life. It’s useful to sometimes take a step back and examine those preconceptions because, sometimes, we discover what we thought isn’t what’s true at all.

DLH

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Worldview: Philosophy: On transitions, even arbitrary ones

Over the past several years, society has developed a tradition of bashing many of our celebrated transitions as “arbitrary” and therefore lacking in value. Of all the transitions that take a beating, New Years and its attendant retrospection and resolution takes the worst beating. I blame the rise of literalism, but that is probably a discussion for another time.

What these arbitrariness claims ignore is the deep seated need we humans have for such transitions. Our history shows that such things have nearly always been a part of our culture, and I suspect that presence is a function of need.

From my point of view, we have a need to break the passage of time into smaller pieces and to be reminded that we have a lot more control over our circumstances than we sometimes imagine. We also need to be reminded that time passes and that dwelling on circumstances outside our control serves little purpose.

So, while the passing of our calendar from one year to the next may be arbitrary in some respects, the weight we put on such transitions is not arbitrary at all. We celebrate that passage because we need to, and we would do well to be conscious of why and embrace what comes from it.

DLH

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Worldview: On derivative creativity

Good ideas have the habit of spawning other good ideas. In fact, modern society owes most of its existence to the process of one person improving on or creating from something someone else has done.

Yet, there is a trend in modern society to try to counteract that process for the sake of protecting “rights,” which itself is a thinly guised attempt to protect profit. We could have a long, and likely fruitless, debate about profit, but I’d rather talk about a different idea: encouraging derivative creativity as a way of keeping ideas fresh.

Why is the modern, often corporate, instinct to crush rather than absorb? In all sorts of endeavors, people who are not part of the original creative process create things that make the original creation better. Yet, far too often, cease and desist letters and lawsuits follow.

What if, instead, we take a different approach that is far more in keeping with the history of ideas? Instead of lawsuits, why not try engaging these derivative creators and bring them into the scope of the creation?

In doing so, we have the opportunity to do something the history of derivative ideas often lacked: formally promote the advancement of those ideas. It stands to reason we would all be better off for it given how we have already benefited so far.

DLH

[Instigation: Star Trek fan film creators sued by CBS, Paramount for copyright infringement]

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Writing: Done before it started: a NaNoWriMo cautionary tale

I had a great idea for NaNoWriMo this year, one I conceived of months ago and have thought about a lot since then. Unfortunately, thinking is all I did about it, with the result being that my attempt at writing 50,000 words in 30 days died almost before it began.

There is something of a common problem among writers (and I’m not going to get into the philosophical, psychological, and practical battles here about what defines a writer) in that we often don’t write. We want to write. We think about writing. We talk about writing. Then we don’t actually write.

For the past year or so, this has been my shortcoming in the extreme. I actually really do love writing. I crave it, to be honest. I feel more complete when I am writing. Then for a variety of reasons, I don’t actually write.

My caution, then, and my encouragement for all of us flailing writers out there is to not let another November sneak up on us with a years worth of wishing about writing without any writing actually having been done. I’m not saying it will be easy or that it will be good, but if you’re like me, you need to do it.

So let’s.

DLH

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Writing: Pondering NaNoWriMo 2015 and the act of writing at all

I know it’s a while until November, but experience says it’s never really too early for one to get ready for National Novel Writing Month. For those who might have missed it, NaNoWriMo is an event put on by the Office of Letters and Light that encourages people to write 50,000 words in 30 days in an effort to encourage people to write. It’s a lot more difficult than it might sound, it turns out.

I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo six times starting in 2007 and achieved the 50k word goal in 2010. In fact, achieving that goal in 2010 reinforced for me something I’ve come to realize and have tried to avoid since I started taking writing classes in 2006: I’m not a novelist.

Instead, what I have discovered is that I am a short storiest. A really short storiest. In fact, I’ve found my comfort zone lies at around 2500 words, and writing 10k works feels like trying to move the earth. Why does that matter? Because if one wants to succeed as a writer, the best way to do so is to write to one’s strengths.

Of course, success in writing is relative. Another thing I’ve realized along the way is that my long-time dream of being a successful, published writer is probably just that: a dream. Some might find that sad, but what I’ve realized along the way is that I write because I have to get this stuff out of my head. If someone else likes it, I’m glad, but I like not having these ideas slowly drive me insane even more.

So, what does that mean for NaNoWriMo 2015? Basically, cheating. My plan is to write a thematic anthology of stories, more or less 30 stories in 30 days all centered around a single topic. For me, it’s the best of both worlds: I try to write 50k words in 30 days, but I do it by writing 2700ish word short stories everyday for 30 days.

I’m looking forward to the challenge. And to the relief. More will follow…

DLH

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