April 21, 2010 at 11:31 pm | In architecture, cities, ideas, social_critique, urbanism | Comments Off on Pulchraphilia

Yesterday the brilliant folks at the Cascadia Region Green Building Council sent out the link to the latest issue of Trim Tab, their quarterly online magazine. The current (Spring 2010) issue features an article by Jason F. McLennan, “The Role of Beauty in Green Design: ‘Pulchraphilia’; How Aesthetics and Good Design Improve Performance” (click through and scroll to p.17ff).

Building on biophilia, McLennan makes the case for beauty, essentially to say that we’re more inclined to take care of beautiful things – including a beautiful built environment – which then naturally dovetails with the interests of sustainability. (On the topic of biophilia, see also my article, Biophilic design: taking love to the street, first published in FOCUS Magazine, August 2007, available for download on Scribd.)

In other words, make “green” beautiful, and it has a better chance of catching on, being loved, getting attention, and giving back, which, taken together, means it just might last.

McLennan even coined a new word, pulchraphilia, to anchor his insight.

Yesterday, I reported on Creating Value Through Sustainability, leading with one panelist’s insight around data: “You measure what matters, and what gets measured, gets done.” Contrast that with McLennan’s discussion of quantity (vs quality?):

The real truth is that many of the most important things in life are the very things that are more difficult to quantify and any system that fails to address them is guaranteed to fall short. Just because something can’t be objectively measured doesn’t mean it has zero value; it may in fact become the most important building block of all. When it comes to green building and environmental performance, beauty and good design play an enormous role in the success of any project. In fact, aesthetics contribute to the overall effort in such significant ways primarily because people are involved and we are emotional beings. (p.20)

At first, I read this and agreed. Then I reread it and wondered how I could agree, yet be inspired by “you measure what matters.” I think now that it isn’t just a question of numerical measurement (relying on, say, conventional data), but rather of agreeing on salience.  In other words, “you measure what matters” means in the first instance agreeing on what is actually salient (if you agree something is salient, you’re much more likely to be willing to talk about its value).

That’s really the key thing: if we can agree that beauty or pulchraphilia are salient to the success of an enterprise, a project, our species, the environment, etc., then we will find a way to take its “measure” – because we will have agreed that, being salient, it’s valuable and it matters.

So, “you measure what matters” is a two-way street, infinitely open to negotiation. You can bury salience in data, drown meaning in bafflegab. Or you can make the case for what matters. And beauty is definitely worth the case.

Apropos of meaning, McLennan writes:

The first thing to understand is that any design infused with a rich cultural process is naturally imbued with meaning, as opposed to designs that attempt to strip away any connection to place, culture, climate or the era in which it resides. Context, in other words, matters – and when we build with great care, great love or great passion the result transcends building and transforms experience. Mere building turns into architecture.  (p.24)

Again, “infused with a rich cultural process” means the design has located itself within salience: the context is the history of how it came to be salient, why it stands out, why we give it attention. (If I put on my art historian’s hat, salience simply means what stands out: the figure against the ground on a canvas, for example. It’s what draws my attention.) And again, salience is itself negotiable: we may not always consider salient what previous generations did. But there’s a history to it, which, if we bother to learn it, can help us figure out how to assess salience today.

(For more on salience in a business context, check out Roger Martin‘s book, The Opposable Mind, which I blogged about here.)

Finally, the following two sentences resonated a lot with me, because (like many people) I’m on a tear against how our built environment is dictated by the requirements of the car:

Most of our current communities have been designed around modules that have nothing to do with the dimension of human life. Instead, they are based on 20- and 30-foot mechanical forms of locomotion (automobiles) that separate us, divide us and expand scale beyond the point where any meaning can occur. (p.30)

Gordon Price has written extensively about car-dependent urban planning; I blogged about a presentation he recently gave in Victoria on Motordom, or auto-dependent urban form. The civil engineers and city planners really need to step up here and rethink the codes – a big dose of pulchraphilia is definitely needed.

Next up sometime soon I might do a little photo-essay about driveways: old driveways in an old neighborhood, juxtaposed to “suburban-style” double-wide driveways on new subdivisions in those same neighborhoods. They’re as big an eyesore in residential neighborhoods as are honking great underground parking garage entrances on city streets that should present a tightly-knit street-wall of building frontages… And why are they so big in the first place? Because city engineering codes require it. Change the damn codes.)

Creating Value Through Sustainability

April 20, 2010 at 10:06 pm | In business, green, innovation | 1 Comment

“You measure what matters, and what gets measured, gets done.”

That’s how Eric Hespenheide put it at this afternoon’s MIT Enterprise Forum event, live-streamed at UVic. …And I have to admit I felt a deep admiration for – perhaps jealousy of? – numbers crunchers who can make this real. Me? I’d probably get too absorbed by the numbers font on the measuring tape, and whether it was cloth or plastic… 😉


Here’s what it was: an MIT Enterprise Forum broadcast, Creating Value Through Sustainability, hosted by the Atlanta chapter and streamed to various campuses, including the University of Victoria, courtesy of UVic’s Innovation and Development Corporation in partnership with iGEM Victoria, advertised on LinkedIn, …but very sparsely attended by our local innovators.

On hand in Atlanta: Matt Kistler (Senior VP, Sustainability, at Walmart Stores, Inc.); Paul Murray (Director, Environmental Safety and Sustainability, Herman Miller, Inc.); Ajeet Rohatgi (Founder/ CTO, Sunavi: Ajeet stood in for James Modak, who was stuck in Europe due to travel cancellations); and Eric Hespenheide (Global Leader, Climate Change and Sustainability, Audit and Enterprise Risk Services, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu).

Each man described how his company has adopted the triple bottom line (“people, planet, profit”) to – you guessed it – create value through sustainability. While everyone had lots to contribute, Mark Kistler of Walmart stood out just for the sheer scale of what his company can do.

For example, each executive stressed the importance of engaging employees in finding value through sustainability – which means, actively seeking employee input for ideas on how to save the planet. It’s not a new idea: everyone is smartening up, getting on that clue train, to realize that your staff and employees are your company’s biggest resource.

But when it’s Walmart, it’s just a little …different.

So, for example, when one bright Walmart manager called Pepsi to ask if it would be ok to shut off a particular light on the vending machine in the staff room, that move turned into an almost $1-million saving for Walmart. Turns out it was ok to turn that light off, the idea got passed along, and then every Walmart staff room vending machine’s light was turned off, leading to the windfall in savings.

Ok, you don’t have to be Walmart to save money, energy, and the planet by turning off the lights, but the enormity of the sums involved gives you an idea of what’s at stake when a company of Walmart’s size says, “we want to do it better.” It’s not trivial. (Yeah, you can be a sour puss and say, “Well, the reason they can save so much is because they waste so much in the first place,” but seriously: is that constructive criticism? No? Didn’t think so. After all, if they don’t set an example, who will?)

There was plenty more in Kistler’s presentation, as well as the others. Presumably, the broadcast will be archived and available for viewing later. (Click on links, above.)

In the discussion that followed at UVic, one university-affiliated person (and I didn’t get her name, sorry!) came up with a bright idea. What if, she suggested, organizations put it out there that employee-generated savings would go into a fund, and that employees then had control with regard to how it was used/ disbursed? Wouldn’t that be a great incentive! If the organization (say, the university – or a government department) saves X-number of dollars on account of a sustainability initiative propagated by the employees, the money isn’t simply “disappeared,” er, absorbed, by the organization, but is instead “paid forward” to help another cause. Whoa, triple bottom line win…

As Eric-the numbers-cruncher guy-Hespenheide said, “You measure what matters, and what gets measured, gets done.”


Wishing local government had an opposable mind

April 19, 2010 at 8:51 pm | In ideas, innovation, johnson street bridge, leadership, social_critique, urbanism, victoria | Comments Off on Wishing local government had an opposable mind

I’m reading Roger Martin‘s book, The Opposable Mind, and came across the following paragraph this morning. It stopped me in my tracks because it made clear what’s wrong with the way thinking typically goes in government (and I’m referring both to the politicians and the bureaucrats / managers).

The paragraph describes the differences between conventional thinking and what Martin calls integrative thinking:

The two types of thinking [integrative versus conventional thinking] are diametrically opposed, and so are the outcomes they generate. Integrative thinking produces possibilities, solutions, and new ideas. It creates a sense of limitless possibility. Conventional thinking hides potential solutions in places they can’t be found and fosters the illusion that no creative solution is possible. With integrative thinking, aspirations rise over time. Conventional thinking is a self-reinforcing lesson that life is about accepting unattractive and unpleasant trade-offs. It erodes aspiration. Fundamentally, the conventional thinker prefers to accept the world as it is. The integrative thinker welcomes the challenge of shaping the world for the better. (p.48, emphases added)

That description of conventional thinking absolutely nails what you can see happening in municipal government.

In Victoria BC, conventional thinking shows itself in the city’s approach to development as well as the Johnson Street Bridge.

I’ve said from the very beginning that the city’s plans to demolish the historic Johnson Street Bridge and replace it with a new structure showed a colossal failure of imagination. It’s also a blatant manifestation of conventional thinking.

There are far too many examples of conventional approaches in government. Because of market pressures, businesses have to reform themselves – or go under. By the same token, it’s crazy to allow conventional thinking to continue unchallenged in government. Cities (and municipal governments) need to show imagination, and integrative thinking. If they don’t, they will stagnate. Surely the lessons of integrative thinking can be deployed in public service, if nurtured by civic leaders. They can, that is, if there is civic leadership that steps up to the job.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

April 18, 2010 at 2:31 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Useful site with upcoming and archived webcasts; this is the section on Architecture, Construction, and Engineering.

    tags: research, design, brighttalk, webcasts, video, reference, architecture, urban_design, ecological_urbanism

  • I had no idea a Council on Tall Buildings existed!
    The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat studies and reports on all aspects of the planning, design, construction and operation of tall buildings. Also of a major concern is the role and impact of tall buildings on the urban environment. Our membership—uniquely interdisciplinary—includes some of the world’s top authorities in their specific profession.

    tags: buildings, reference, tall_buildings, architecture, urbanism

  • Wish I could attend this event:
    Old is the New Green:
    Starbucks Center
    Presented in Partnership with the Cascadia Region Green Building Council Seattle Branch.

    This iconic building was built in 1912 by Union Pacific from Yesler Mill timber to house the Sears and Roebuck & Co. store. At 2.1 million square feet the LEED-EB certified building is the largest multi-tenant building in Washington State and helped to breathe life back into Seattle’s SODO neighborhood.

    Kevin Daniels, President of Nitze-Stagen and Daniels Development, will speak to the challenges of being a trail blazer in sustainable preservation and what made this project such a success. Don’t miss the chance to get an insider view at what makes Starbucks’ global headquarters a leader in green preservation.

    tags: heritage, sustainability, preservation, urban_renewal, adaptability, seattle, architecture

  • It’s obvious that without efforts at TOD (transit-oriented development) there is a danger of HSR (high speed rail) making sprawl more attractive. But if we get the development angle down right, there’s no reason things couldn’t turn out as they have in Europe, where HSR does *not* equal sprawl. Why should it do so in North America? Are we that stupid – or greedy? (Don’t answer that…)
    In theory (and hopefully in practice) the priorities of HSR in the U.S. are a wide mix of economic, environmental, and urban planning, goals. But some urban planners are arguing that an unintended consequence of actually building HSR lines could be a major step backwards in the notion of sustainable living.

    Granted, as Yonah Freemark points out, this foretelling of sprawl takeovers could be all speculation — there’s been no link established between existing HSR stations in France and Spain and an epidemic of suburban growth. Also there’s no evidence that the “commute from afar” attitude has been embraced en masse in the parts of the U.S. serviced by fast trains — how many people live in Philadelphia and take the Acela to New York City every day?
    Bingo. Do TOD, plan better, and make living in cities attractive through amenities (including community).

    tags: high_speed_rail, transportation, transit, sprawl, transit_oriented_development

  • Note: the following three bookmarks relate to previous posts on this blog: Comment quality? (March 25, 2010) and Follow up on commenting, and Facebook (March 27, 2010):

  • One of three sites that came out of a conversation on Fred Wilson’s avc.com post, Some thoughts on comments. This site was mentioned in the comments by Liad Shabado of Doof. Permalink to Liad’s comment here.
    The Casual segment of the games industry changes almost as rapidly as the Internet itself. Technology evolves, broadband usage increases and, every day, more and more people are playing and accessing and even playing their games online. Not only that, casual games are getting richer and more complex. The evolution in casual game design is finally taking its own path and leaving behind many design rules that applied to core video-games.

    In this section, we will examine what it means to design games for the evolving casual games medium and its wide-ranging, international audience.

    tags: gaming, game_design, fred_wilson, comments, anonymity

  • One of three sites that came out of a conversation on Fred Wilson’s avc.com post, Some thoughts on comments. This site was mentioned in the comments by Liad Shabado of Doof. Permalink to Liad’s comment here.

    From this page, intro to Kim:
    Amy Jo Kim is a game/social/web designer known for bridging the divide between game and web design. She has designed software UIs, games, online communities, and wrote the seminal book Community Building for the Web way back in 2000. I have long admired her work, and I am grateful that she recently sat down for an interview on the basics of game mechanics and how they can be used in interaction design.

    tags: amy_jo_kim, comments, anonymity, gaming, game_design, bokardo

  • One of three sites that came out of a conversation on Fred Wilson’s avc.com post, Some thoughts on comments. This site was mentioned in the comments by Liad Shabado of Doof, a paper written in 1994. Liad found 5 of his 7 rules to be useful when thinking about anonymous comments. Permalink to Liad’s comment here.

    tags: comments, anonymity, fred_wilson, reference, the_commons, virtual_ecosystems

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

What makes me nervous

April 17, 2010 at 5:54 pm | In just_so, vancouver_island, victoria | 2 Comments


I’m walking with my dog at the Dallas Road off-leash park, and see two kids on a raft fashioned from beach logs, paddling (with sticks, not oars) in the Juan de Fuca Strait

Yes, the waters are calm today, there’s no storm. But there are currents…

Made me nervous…

I uploaded a little one-and-a-half-minute video I made of the boys to Youtube – click here to view. The video gives a better idea of where they’re paddling. (Sorry about the short zoom-in being out-of-focus, my camera isn’t the best.)

And here’s a still photo:

Follow-up thoughts on Change vs Development

April 16, 2010 at 10:36 pm | In authenticity, urbanism, victoria | Comments Off on Follow-up thoughts on Change vs Development

Following up on my post from yesterday, Change vs Development: Is there a difference?, a couple of additional thoughts.

To me, change implies a change of state, a switch from one thing to another. I can change the template of this blog, for example. That’s a minor, inconsequential change, but still a change. Development is ongoing: staying with the blog example, I can continue to develop my blog through posts, the addition of links, the inclusion of photos, and by tending to comments. Those activities (done over time) imply developing a web presence.

By the same token, you can develop an ecology, or an economy, in different fields or areas.

Development can be guided, but it can’t be fully predicted. You’re never really sure what the outcome will be (which is why development falls into the high risk category). If I change my template, I know what the outcome will be. If I try to develop my web presence through my blog, …well, who knows whether anything will happen, but whatever it is, I can’t really predict it.

I can’t predict what sort of adult a baby develops into. I can’t predict what sort of economy will develop if I encourage this or stifle that. I can influence the development by increments, but I can’t write (i.e., pre-scribe) the outcomes ahead of time.

Development takes imagination, and nurturing. It’s risky business and needs smart attention.

Change vs Development: Is there a difference?

April 15, 2010 at 11:41 pm | In authenticity, heritage, jane_jacobs, land_use, urbanism, victoria | 3 Comments

Some remarkably outrageous statements by one of Victoria, BC’s leading heritage preservationists once again made it into the local paper, and it got me thinking about change and development.

Everyone seems to agree that Victoria is famously resistant to change. One old light-bulb joke, told by Joe Average back in the day when we were in high school together, goes like this: “Q: How many Victorians does it take to change a light bulb? A: None. They like the old one.”

This, in other words, is an old-old trope.

But the guff retailed by the heritage preservationist suggests to me a different way of thinking about change. The newspaper article, Heritage lost on the street by Vivian Moreau, begins as follows:

One heritage  home a week is being lost in Greater Victoria, says the head of the Hallmark Society.

Developers are snapping up large properties with small houses on them, demolishing the houses and putting up new structures that don’t fit with the neighbourhoods, said Nick Russell, president of the group dedicated to preserving heritage in Greater Victoria. (source, front page of Vic News, Oak Bay News, and Saanich News print versions)

When I read this, I wondered what, exactly, Mr. Russell is protesting. Is it change? Or development? I’ll explain in a sec why I think there may be a difference, but first consider the (to my mind) outrageous conflation produced by Mr. Russell in the article’s conclusion:

“The sense (in Victoria) was ‘there’s a lot of old houses here, let’s put up some nice new things and increase the density,'” he said. “They were whacking things all over James Bay [a neighborhood in the City of Victoria] and putting up 20-storey towers.”

That came to a halt when Victoria mayor Peter Pollen put a stop to it, Russell recalled.

“Oak Bay [a separate municipality to the east of the City of Victoria] hasn’t come to that point. There is a sense there that the supply of houses is endless.” (source)

Peter Pollen was Victoria mayor from 1971 to 1975, and again from 1981 to 1985: he’s hardly a recent memory. The strategy of building high-rises in James Bay died in the 1970s when Victorians decided that they didn’t want a Vancouver-style West End (meaning: a true urban peninsula) in that core neighborhood. And any heritage houses (actual or so-called) that are “whacked” in the mostly upscale Municipality of Oak Bay are meeting that fate because wealthy property owners want to upgrade their standard of living, not because of moves to increase density.

In other words, the outrageous conflation is Russell’s suggestion that Oak Bay is on the verge of high-rise development, which is complete BS. It’s even BS to suggest that Oak Bay is trying to densify, except perhaps around its village nodes (for example, Estevan Village) – and even then, it’s a tooth-and-claw battle with the anti-change crowd.

Or is it the anti-change crowd?

Maybe it’s the anti-development crowd.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Well, I’ve noticed that despite all the hand-wringing over change, change does come – even to Victoria. It’s inevitable.

What’s resisted is development, which is actually a much slower process that occurs over time.

In nature, we don’t flip a switch to “change” from winter to spring: the latter develops over time. A tree isn’t bare one day and fully leafed out the next: that happens over time. Development is what we undergo or experience over time. An exception is when what Jane Jacobs called “catastrophic money” comes flooding in (say, in the form of “urban renewal,” “slum” clearance, or the building of single-purpose street-block-sized “centers,” whether sports or entertainment or civic / government centers). Catastrophic money sweeps in like a tsunami and creates flip-a-switch change – but nowhere is Victoria in danger of that happening.

Unlike development, which happens over time, change is change: that is, sudden. And sometimes it’s a change into the opposite of what was intended. You can ignore all the factors leading to that flipping of the switch until suddenly you notice, “Oh, the light went on (or out).” Then you react to change, which means you’re in a position of weakness. Development is different: it happens in such a way as to allow you to participate in its changes (plural). Every gardener knows that you can direct development, and decent urbanists know this, too.

By pitting themselves resolutely against development, however, the status quo crowd (and I include Victoria’s Hallmark Foundation) are actually facilitating change. Instead of allowing us (and themselves) to undergo and experience development, they resist it until something happens anyway (change), except there was no way to undergo it, and it comes not as something planned, but as a surprise.

Change can mean a building that should have been taller and more splendidly finished ends up under-built, with the developer skimping on materials. Change can mean the economy tanking because all we ever do is resist development. Change can mean a good thing (as when, for example, a surface parking lot is developed and we get a great new building in our downtown core).

Change happens. That’s a variant of “shit happens.” It just does. There’s no stopping it, good or bad.

The way to make sure absolutely that all you ever get is utter crap change is to resist development at every turn: that’s almost guaranteed to deliver nasty surprises.

Instead of talking about change, try instead to work positively with development – like a good gardener, a good stakeholder, a good urbanist. Imagine a garden that’s not allowed to develop, an ecosystem that’s suppressed; a city whose economy is kept artificially restricted; an urban fabric that’s deliberately kept mono-cultural and thin. Then imagine the negative change that befalls that garden, that ecosystem, that city, that urban fabric.

Development is good, especially when it allows for planned change that’s beneficial; development is also much more encompassing, touching all the little and sometimes unseen changes that affect the ecosystem as a whole.

Victoria’s anti-change crowd really is a joke, just like that old light bulb pun. They might think they’re preserving something, but their relentless opposition to development just facilitates bad change.

Remember: shit happens. (And it always flows downhill.)

Can artifice be truthful? (My Kraftwerk interlude)

April 14, 2010 at 5:59 pm | In arts, fashionable_life, ideas | 2 Comments

I’m listening to a couple of Kraftwerk CDs that my son requested for his birthday: Die Menschmaschine and Trans Europa Express. There are a number of good links on Youtube for those who need a Kraftwerk refresher: Die Roboter (ignore the intro) and Das Modell, for example.

When both Kraftwerk and I were younger and their music was current, I had a bit of a hard time with Krautrock (yeah, thanks, UK) and the repetitive lyric of Wir fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn. But hearing these albums now, I’m blown away by how good they are: the quality, concept, musicality, and yes, even the lyrics. Maybe that’s because the German lyrics rhyme, which smooths the edges off the language, making it fit seamlessly into Kraftwerk’s synth package. Brilliant.


As for the automaton aspects, I can see them now as pure poetry. When I was a teenager, they embarrassed me: too close to the cliches about Germans, too close to the idea of Germans blindly following orders – in this case programming from who-knows-where. Now, I’d say they’re fucking brilliant from start to finish, and manage to convey more depth and truth than many an expressionistic let-it-all-hang-out ethos ever could. Can machines make art, philosophize, and tell the truth? Maybe if they’re “made in Germany” (and people after all), they can.

A couple of sample verses from the song Spiegelsaal (Hall of Mirrors):

Sogar die groessten Stars/ Entdecken sich selbst/ Im Spiegelglass = even the biggest stars discover themselves in the looking glass

Sogar die groessten Stars/ Moegen sich nicht/ Im Spiegelglass = even the biggest stars don’t like themselves in the looking glass.

Sogar die groessten Stars/ Veraendern sich/ Im Spiegelglass = even the biggest stars change [appearance/ their self] in the looking glass.

Sogar die groessten Stars/ Leben ihr Leben / Im Spiegelglass = even the biggest stars live their lives in the looking glass

Sogar die groessten Stars/ Machen sich zurecht/ Im Spiegelglass = even the biggest stars make themselves up in the looking glass

Such fitting lyrics for Kraftwerk, whose looking glass is consummate and beautiful artifice.

Fool’s gold

April 13, 2010 at 9:18 pm | In writing | 2 Comments

Last Friday I met with an architect friend who’s working on a creative side project that involves drawing, from memory, the floor plans of houses she has lived in, and annotating them with anecdotes (as opposed to building instructions). She’s asking friends to draw their floor plans for her, adding the results to an archive she’s constructing.

Although I must have moved house ten times with my parents before moving out on my own when I was 17, there’s one house (ironically “in the sticks”) with which I associate strong memories. It’s located on a country road outside a village in Germany, near the Dutch border. We moved there when I was 3 1/2, leaving a relatively comfortable urban apartment in Duesseldorf so that my father could pursue one of his crazy schemes: starting his own paint factory. He went “into business” with two creeps who invested nothing, while he sunk our savings into the venture. Then he went bankrupt, spectacularly, and was reduced to working day and night shifts to keep the bailiffs off our backs. My mother once broke down in tears because she had no money to buy one of us new shoelaces. Well, I guess we at least had shoes, though… 😉

When I was 8, one of my father’s former apprentices, who had emigrated to Winnipeg and worked his way to significant prosperity, visited us in our diaspora and suggested that we, too, should emigrate. So we did. Call the emigration diaspora 2.0, except there weren’t no internets back then…

Given the opportunity to contribute to the creative floor plans project, I drew that house, with which I associate some terrible events, but also (as it turns out) things that continue to have a hold on me.

As I wrote yesterday, I’m reading Julie Morgenstern’s latest book, SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck, and am trying to embark on a SHED process right now. It’s a tough slog. My approach isn’t exactly as Morgenstern lays it out in her book: I am separating and heaving (the “S” and the “H” in SHED) more or less simultaneously, if only so I can machete my way through what has become of my study (and god, how I dread tackling the basement in the coming weeks). But one insight from Morgenstern’s book is already throwing some new light on my habit of accruing stuff around a certain subject or area.

When I drew my creative floor plan, I recalled three areas of the house most vividly: my father’s study, which I loved spending time in because of its numerous books (including a fair number of art and architectural history books); the attic where one of my sisters made her lair: she had learned dressmaking and had all the tools of the trade up there – she was also heavily into Karneval and costumes; and – the jewel in my crown of memories – the outbuilding which housed my father’s paint factory. After he had to abandon the business, the mixers and all the paraphernalia stayed behind: powdered pigments in glass containers lined the shelves; various mysterious fluids, made from aromatic gums, turpentine, and oils beckoned; latex galore (he was making latex paint); and drawers filled with esoterica. My favorite was the one that contained the gold, bronze, and silver leaf.

I loved “playing” in that paint factory – which wasn’t hard to do, since no one else was using it. I wasn’t supposed to be in there, but of course I went anyway. Who would miss a piece of gold leaf? Who would want to miss seeing it quiver when the air moved over it too briskly? Who would punish me for trying to make paint on my own? If anything, I suspect my father was pleased that at least someone in the family was interested in what he had tried to do.

What does this have to do with SHEDing? Well, Morgenstern counsels looking in one’s personal history for the triggers that prompt particular hoarding or cluttering-up behaviors. My interesting (to me) insight today was that I attach a great deal of love to objects like books and creative-crafting-home-repair supplies (including paints), as well as luxury materials like nice fabrics or sumptuous costumes (my sisters – the one who sewed in particular – were often tasked with taking care of me).

And those are the areas where the clutter accrues, where it’s hardest for me to heave.

My mother, on the other hand, is sadly absent in my various collections – and I have no problems with hoarding or cluttering up the part of my life that might be associated with her.

She was an accomplished cook and baker; every year she made preserves and canned vegetables. She had all the domestic skills, but she was no sentimentalist. Worry and work had ground her down: it never felt comfortable around her, she was perpetually harried. She had been quite a good athlete (swimmer), and I think her way of expressing herself was fundamentally physical. I also suspect that she scorned talk as something cheap – and a waste of time. God knows my father did enough talking for five people. In my mother’s orbit, everything was hard and edgy. She banished any sort of tchotchke from her domain. Why? It would have to be dusted, and the less there was to dust, the better. Dust was the enemy, and dust was always on the offensive. Many things, including memory, were a waste of time. And eventually she probably concluded that looking into the future just meant seeing shit.

“Get rid of it” could have been her motto.

Today, during my 2 hours of trying to SHED, I threw out the hoarded remains of craft and paint supplies I continued to hang on to, in case I (or the kids) were to start up again. (Yes, pathetic.) I have a possible recycle/ give-away pile (if someone wants it) that includes brushes, a baren, and a brayer; nearly half a gallon of white glue; miniature trees (for models); various charcoal sticks; about 40 small jars with lids that would be perfect for someone’s craft supplies; a clutch of small glass vials and droppers; a stack of fabric and paper sample books; a Print Gocco (I’m really loathe to part with that one – but heave it I should: it’s not really a treasure anymore); stacks of home decor magazines; …and I haven’t even started on the closet in my study, which contains various treasures related to making sculptures and to artisan paper, along with a sewing machine and a serger.

God, I’m doomed.

And this – my room – is the easy part. The basement on the other hand… That’s the department of discontinued lines, the electronics graveyard, the power tools horror show…

I could channel my mother and throw it all out, but having read Morgenstern’s book, I now know that my father would just come back and clutter it all up again. So I have to tread very carefully and make my peace with what I’m tossing.


While I was thinking about this entry, I remembered writing about an article called Quitting the Paint Factory by Mark Slouka a while back, and decided to look for it in my archives. Turns out I referenced it as part of a larger blog post I wrote nearly 6 years ago (in 2004), called Why read blogs? It’s in part about community, the qualities of online communities, and the differences between online/ virtual communities and real-life communities. (I also discovered that my link to Slouka’s article has gone dead, but that this blogger rescued the article for online reading: thanks!)

My long long entry from 2004 (with several long long comments) startled me. I can’t believe I wrote about all these questions concerning community as far back as 2004 – and it’s still topical today.

Maybe I need to put together a book one of these days. Not write, as such, another book – done that; but rather compile one from these entries here.

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