Bye-Bye Indie Movies

The closing of the Mos’Art Theater in Lake Park this past week is a small, personal tragedy for those of us who loved the great selection of independent and foreign films found there for the last five years. We’ve seen Oscar-nominated documentaries, animated films and features, and even got to vote on them. We’ve attended benefits at the Mos’Art like the showing of The Vessel, co-sponsored by the local National Organization for Women and Emergency Medical Assistance.  Most recently, the 2015 Oscar-nominee for Foreign Language Film, Wild Tales, drew an appreciative audience. To catch films of this caliber now, means driving at least 20 minutes on a hair-raising stretch of I-95 to the only other cinema of its kind in northern Palm Beach County. But even more than the inconvenience, it saddens me to see this promising venue, on the same block as our other favorite local hangout, The Brewhouse Gallery, go dark. A vibrant community needs more thriving small businesses, not fewer, more foot traffic, not less.

indie_logoLake Park has a more diverse population than our home town, and just like the other artsy, colorful, interesting town of Lake Worth, diversity also brings with it more security issues and various defensive strategies.  I notice, for example, that Saigon Market where we shop for a terrific array of Asian ingredients, and the Vietnamese pho/hot-pot restaurant its owners opened last year, pull down metal shutters over their display windows and door at night.  It’s common practice in fringe neighborhoods in any urban area, and one choice retailers can make to protect themselves. But a fortress does not a community make. More venues like The Brewhouse Gallery and its neighbor, Art on Park, both of which cater to emerging artists, are a better way to go. I say this even while recognizing that today’s artists’ haven is tomorrow’s high-rent district. Hello Miami’s Wynnwood.

We live less than 5 miles from Lake Park, in a family oriented town we landed in more than a decade ago, following one set of grandchildren to the sunshine of South Florida. It has its virtues — low crime rate, good schools, two excellent community centers with pools and other sports facilities, more large shade trees, a Whole Foods Market, the Gardens Mall, and of course, a multiplex theater featuring the usual fare of blockbusters. Developers of Downtown, and the newer Midtown, have tried to infuse a sense of community around the collection of shops and restaurants, with comfortable public seating, periodic art shows and free music on the weekends in the season (that is, not the hotter summer months).  Downtown features a carousel and a train for tots that also goes round and round each evening, clanging bell and all. But the design approach doesn’t seem to be moving us in the direction of a real town center as a community gathering place. The farmers market is somewhat better, but without some effort, it’s too easy to be ships that pass in the night. Even the kids don’t seem to be having much fun, except occasionally when they cut loose from their parents and play with other kids. They set a fine example.

I’ve made the point here before that as shoppers, diners or spectators, we’re more likely to stick to our companions. Mingling or chatting with people we don’t know would be an exception rather than the rule, and that’s a seriously bad trend for community life, let alone the kind of resilience the future may demand of us. I don’t think our little corner of Palm Beach County is an isolated example (but I’d be delighted to have that view challenged).  If we aren’t comfortable with the people we meet in the commons, how can we become better at talking with each other in community meetings where an issue of mutual interest is being discussed, let alone in a more politically charged gathering?  Shouldn’t we all be concerned about the silo lifestyles and bland conformity so many of us have adopted, and adapted to, without understanding what and whom we are sacrificing?  I think so, and the indie-minded among you might agree. I’ll leave you with some links worth checking out:

Transition Streets  — just launched website

Strong Towns

Walkable WPB

Where’s the Beef?

The answer is: not in my diet, for reasons ethical, environmental, and health-related.  If you share this preference, you already know it can make you a problematic dinner guest, not quite of the gluten-free or raw food variety (no offense to either), but close.  But recently I made an exception for my meat-loving family, a special birthday celebration — my first born’s 50th! — in a recipe for buffalo chili from an Andrew Weil cookbook.  I am fortunate to have a local source for verified grass-fed meat thanks to Farriss Farm, a small farmers-market-based enterprise run by Robert and Paula Farriss who have seen their business turn around by a burgeoning demand.

ChiliBut the Where’s the Beef line that everyone over a certain age remembers from a Burger King commercial, is a good question for all of us Americans.  Our habits of consumption,  including but not limited to a diet high in meat, means each of us needs approximately 5 times the resources — food, water, energy — the Earth can provide for each human now alive. Our allowable ‘personal planetoid’ is about 4.5 acres. You don’t need to be a math whiz to figure that someone somewhere is getting the short end of the stick now, and with the population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, something is going to give.  From Pope Francis’ encyclical published today: “… a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.” You and I know this, and even so, it’s difficult to accept personal responsibility for a problem so complex it took Pope Francis 184 pages to cover.

If you are a fan of small, specific tasks, you may also be cheered by an elevator speech (love them!), How to Fix America’s Beef Problem in Under 2 Minutes, by co-author, Denis Hayes, of  Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and EnvironmentUnlike the daunting title, this video (thank you, Grist!) is upbeat and accessible like The Story of Stuff series and others of its ilk, and inspiring on multiple levels. Hayes, whose bona fides as an environmentalist are impeccable, isn’t trying to do the impossible: turn 317 million burger-chomping Americans into vegans overnight. Like Michael Pollan (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”), he offers a reasonable goal of 50% reduction in meat usage, still way beyond what the average citizen in the developing parts of the world consumes.

You may also enjoy the case made by Small Footprint Family for returning to pastured livestock because, among other things, it helps improve soil depleted by agribusiness mono-cropping and sequesters carbon. The article references Alan Savory’s sensational TED Talk  How to Fight Desertification and Reverse Climate Change (over 3 million views).  Savory’s experiment has since drawn fire for being unscalable and for promoting more rather than less meat in the diet. If you can get your hands on a copy of the DVD, Symphony of the Soil, a film it was my pleasure to help introduce in my area, offers a balanced view.

More mindful food choices seem like one of the easier things we can all do to trim our ecological footprint as well as preserve our well-being (which considering the cost of healthcare, is itself a public good). Transition’s 10% local food challenge is a great place to start, whether you are an omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, or raw food enthusiast. Switch 10% of your food purchases to what is produced nearby and keep your small farmer in business.

We aren’t looking to increase the intake of meat in our household, but I must admit that the buffalo chili, flavored with Ancho chili, cumin and dark chocolate, was worth the wait. Glad to share the recipe. Just ask in the comment section.

Small FootPrint Family

What Would Happen If The Entire World Lived Like Americans

Where’s the Beef? Everywhere

Local Food Shift

Losing/Finding My Voice

Based on my albeit short career in climate activism, I believe too many of us are struggling with massive, relentless stress that takes a toll on our relationships with each other, the quality of our work, and inevitably, and on our own body-minds.  We want change but our methodology is missing the mark. We preach to the choir in deadly, PowerPoint, fact-filled meetings, replete with pressure to sign away our free time to various on-going actions. Given this is South Florida, the list is long. When we keep pounding away with the facts, the values, our values, the humanity of our words and actions, remain off the table. We must replace finger wagging with a vision of life so compelling, people will want to create it. We need, as Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement insists, new stories to inspire and model change, and the ability to tell them well. Moreover, we need Marketing 101, because those who are fighting just as hard for business as usual are employing it more effectively. See George Lakoff (Don’t Think of an Elephant).

Last week, a climate activist buddy and I both found ourselves stricken with an upper bronchial infection that is making the rounds and rendered speechless with laryngitis, ah the irony.  When we found our voices again, we had a chat about the work we do and its impact on our health and that of those in our circle. We are on the same wavelength that new approaches are sorely needed, a lightness of being.  I think of Wendell Berry’s great quote: Be joyful, although you have considered the facts. She is, as are others, often able to ‘push through’ fatigue and illness, even to the point of offering comment on the Regional Climate Action Plan of 2009, at last on the West Palm Beach commissioners’ agenda.  The good news and kudos to my colleagues: RCAP was signed. But I can’t help wondering why it took this long, and why only three municipalities in Palm Beach County have signed it so far.

When I feel unwell I tend to want to tough it out, but when I woke up one morning unable to so much as whisper, it seems a good time to save my vocal chords, hold my peace, and see what might happen. Teaching my yoga classes was impossible, but I did some gentle, restorative yoga at home. And thanks to my mindfulness meditation practice, I noticed how it felt to be without a voice.  I allowed myself to enquire, become curious about whether this lack had anything to teach me. Curiosity, says Buddhist nun and author, Pema Chödrön, is “A much more interesting, kind and joyful approach to life … whether the object of our curiosity is bitter or sweet.”

conversationWhile I was sans voice, I happened to be reading a great book … about talking! Living Room Revolution:A Handbook for Conversation, Community and the Common Good by Cecile Andrews is both a convincing case for the need for civil discourse and a manual for the same. It argues that nothing less than our democracy depends on our reclaiming of the lost art of conversation, an exchange of equals in a respectful, convivial atmosphere, pub, salon or living room. Public spaces where people could gather spawned revolutions in the past, including that of our nation.  Today, many of us rely on other means, e.g. email, texting and social media, to stay in touch, usually with our friends, real or virtual. Texting can be great for refining a plan as you go, a lesson we can learn from the young. But these techniques don’t help us widen our circles of association or get practice talking with people with whom we might not agree on everything. And that does not promote the common good.

Andrews’ formula is deceptively simple: a study circle that gathers “a small group of people talking about three questions, the first being about personal experience, the second about cultural forces that defeat your goals, and the third about actions you can take to accomplish your goals.”  Other suggestions: Enlist commitments to meet weekly for eight weeks.  Get consensus about what makes a good conversation.  Use a timer to limit each speaker to 3 minutes.  Done right, these study circles encourage every participant to become a storyteller and possibly a change maker.  I love these three beginning questions:

1. When in your life have you experienced supportive community and a sense of belonging?

2. What forces in society make it difficult for you to have community?

3. What short-term and long-term actions can you take to introduce more community into your life?

My spouse is naturally gregarious, always the one who will strike up a conversation with a seat mate at the theater or on public transportation while my head is buried in a program or book, or worse, checking my smart phone.  But I’m determined to break these habits.  So at last Sunday’s Farmers Market, while he was getting us coffee, I sat down at a picnic table next to a someone I didn’t know. Because we smiled at each other, I took the plunge and asked his opinion about the various breakfast vendors, and he was delighted to make some recommendations. That opening was enough to spark a conversation of about 30 minutes, as my spouse arrived with the coffee and the two men quickly bonded as fellow New Yorkers from different boroughs. By the time we had covered some family and work history — he was a subway driver for the #7 line — I realized that we were on the same page about some hot topics: the disappearance of the middle class and the sorry state of education, with some ideas on how to address both. When was the last time that happened to you? As we shook hands, exchanged names, and went our separate ways, I felt the afterglow of having made a human connection at what has become another shopping opportunity, albeit with better vegetables and sometimes decent live music. Much as I enjoy social media, it doesn’t do it for me.  The art of conversation — let’s bring it back.