Wednesday, August 3, 2011

In the Beginning, There Was Creation

This post started out as a nebulous concept involving the idea of creation; not the biblical story of creation, but the many human acts of creation and the fundamental drive to create that compels many of us to do at least some of what we do in our lives every day.  As distinguished from the bare necessities of breathing, eating and sleeping, creative acts, by my definition, are the multitude of things we do to enhance the experience of survival and to fill-in some of the available, non survival-focused hours.   Of course, the more secure and certain is your survival, the more hours you can spend on such enhancements and the more creative you can be.  (Here I refer you to cultural Exhibits A-C, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, MTV Cribs and Pimp My Ride.)

Now I'm no scientist, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and assert that in addition to a facility for language and a cranium that can contain a relatively large brain, the ability to conceive of an idea, plan its execution and then carry it out is at the core of what it is to be human.  Because we can create, we sleep in comfortable beds and not on the ground, we eat Big Macs instead of big Mammoths, and we entertain ourselves by watching Jersey Shore instead of staring at the shores of New Jersey.  Everything from cooking to knitting, farming to Facebook-ing, and painting to poorly executed blogging is a kind of creative act.  Whether you think of yourself as a creative person or not, chances are you engage in multiple kinds of creation and creativity every day.

As unlikely as it may seem, the spark for this topic came from my family's recent annual visit to the CSA farm that we are a member of.  For those who are not familiar with the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) phenonmenon, it is the process by which city dwellers can procure a weekly box or bag of vegetables from a local farm.  There are many ways such operations are structured.  Sometimes your box is delivered to you and you get what you get, other CSAs might allow you to "shop" at a farmer's market with membership points and you can get as much Russian kale and broccoli as your squeaky-clean, vegetarian heart desires and skip the cabbage.  With our CSA, Spring Hill Community Farm, we get a cloth bag full of vegetables as determined by the farm.  The bag contains what the farm was growing and harvesting just days or hours before, whether I recognize it as an edible plant or not.  Thus, on many occasions I have unpacked my bag and been confronted with strange and previously unknown vegetable forces, such as kohlrabi, parsnip and Medusa-like tangles of garlic scapes.  While these expeditions into the deepest, darkest corners of Vegetable World are thrilling and exciting in and of themselves, what I like best about Spring Hill is not Close Encounters of the Vegetable Kind, but the required work day at the farm. 

Every member or member family is required to sign-up for at least one work day at the farm over the summer.  As Spring Hill's web site explains, "Spring Hill deliveries are done by members.  Each household commits to working one delivery day on the farm. Twin Cities members then pack their cars and deliver vegetables to pick-up sites in Minneapolis or St. Paul."  But the work day is more than just a distribution system.  It allows the member to see the farm, help with some of the many chores that need doing, share a pot-luck lunch together and then pack-up the bags of vegetable surprise.

So how, you might ask, does stuffing vegetables into a bag with strangers one day a year spark an idea for a blog post about creation?  On one level the answer is, "I have no idea," but on another level I do have an idea.  Every time I go to the farm I get all hopped-up on good vibrations and positivity.  The idealist in me that is never too far below the surface even under less idyllic and objectively more hostile urban circumstances, gets giddy with delight after a few hours at the farm.  Without smoking or snorting a thing, I get high on the experience of reconnecting myself to the land and playing farmer for a day.  After our most recent visit, my reaction was no different, but this time on the drive home I started wondering what, exactly, it was about going to the farm that caused this reaction.

Without subjecting you to the tortuous thought process that ensued for the next 45 minutes of our return trip, I ultimately concluded that the giddiness was the result of participating in one of the original and most fundamental of human creative endeavors: the growing and cultivating of food.  Through manipulation of earth and water we can curate and organize mother nature's wild bounty.  We can game the system into producing a field of corn, or a patch of strawberries, or vines heavy with melons.  At some point in the distant mists of history and evolution, we observed what grew in the cool dampness of spring and what needed the hot summer sun for ripening.  Then, we put our minds and bodies to work and invented farming.  No longer would we need to find the strawberries where they had manged to grow while hoping there would be strawberries and wondering where they would be.  Instead, we would make a place for them, help them along and then stick around for the delicious, face staining results.  Creating, I concluded, is deeply satisfying to us homo sapiens.  We are hard-wired to create because that is how we survived.

From there, I thought about how much creating we do on a daily basis.  Indeed, my brain almost escaped my skull when I contemplated the notion that society as we know it is really just a massive, ongoing act of collective creation.  Each day we get up and the world we put down the day before is still there.  But this is only because we tacitly agree to continue our collective bargain that if you continue to create your part, I will continue to create my part.  We agree to build and support an elaborate and complex abstract structure in which some of us will grow food and others of us will buy it; some of us will build buildings and specialized machinery and others of us will care for the sick, plow the snow and issue fishing licenses; some of us will be named Kardashian and be famous for no reason and the rest of us will follow them on Twitter.

That society is an elaborate, continuing act of collective creation is underscored with bloody emphasis when the invisible pact becomes dysfunctional or is rejected, as recently occurred in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.  Should enough of us decide to stop playing our parts all at once, the show can't go on.  In a very literal sense, society is what it is -- good, bad or syndicated -- for no reason other than because we have made it so.

So now we get to the part where the happy, eat-your-vegetables-and-get-your-hands-in-the-dirt blog post I thought I was going to write, gets hijacked by recent international news and political events, causing the farm-induced, up-to-the-rafters high to come crashing down straight through normal and into the basement of depression and despair.  Here's how it went down:

I kept on with the thinking about creation well after we returned from the farm, delivered all of our bags of vegetables to our assigned drop-off/pick-up locations, and I had stowed-away my metaphorical overalls for another year.  I kept thinking about how we need to remember that we are all creators.  That we have the power of a creator.  But we are forgetful.  We forget that the world was not always this way and that it could be different; that the color for "go" on the traffic lights could be purple and "stop" could be orange, or that, if we tried hard enough and brought all of our energy to bear, the American League might get it's ass in gear and abandon the blasphemous, ill-conceived and strategy killing designated hitter once and for all.  

The way I see it, about 82% of what happens to or otherwise affects human beings on Earth is within our control.  By this I mean that it is the direct result of human practices, policies or procedures.  This includes war, revolution, vaccines, pollution, rescues at sea, the invention of peanut butter and chocolate together and the massive biker rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Then, there's about another 15% that I'd put in the category of "shit happens."  This accounts for untameable forces of nature, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, mosquitoes and Lady Gaga.

That gets us up to 97%, leaving 3% unaccounted for.  That last little slice is what I call "no one really knows."  It's meant to allow for the fact that, devoutly religious or haphazardly atheist, no one really has the 4-1-1 on the whole of the universe.  True, I fall-in with the crowd that is deeply skeptical that there are organized higher powers out there who have nothing better to do than pick the Packers to win the Super Bowl, imprint their likeness on toast, counsel Michelle Bachmann on her career path and direct ancient scribes to write confusing, contradictory and internally inconsistent sets of divinely issued instructions that will be used for millenia to incite religious sects to kill each other and to support and justify every variety of hatred and discrimination humans have come up with to date.  Still, I am willing to acknowledge the possibility that I don't know it all either.  Hence, the 3%.  (To the math and science geeks reading this, I admit that this data has not been independently validated or peer reviewed. Mostly, I'm just trying to illustrate a point.)

If you are still reading after that monster of an incendiary sentence in the previous paragraph, my point is this: if you agree that most of what we complain about is within our own control, then we are both the problem and the solution.  We must try to remember and understand the extent to which we are the creators of our world.  At some level, we all know and believe this or else the democratic process that has made this country so successful for so long would collapse. Why argue policy and propose legislation and have elections if it is all just an ineffective charade?  (I'm not going to take my own bait on that one for the moment.)  

The idealist in me surges at this insight.  Yes! We can be farmers and plant, cultivate and harvest the kind of world we want to live in.  We have nothing but ourselves in the way.  Think of what we could do if we really believed in our ability to make our own Earth right here on Earth.  Just think of it.

But then, the other side of the coin.  I pick-up the New York Times on my breakfast table and gasp at the horrific picture of an emaciated child dying of starvation in Somalia.  I look at this child, naked and probably now dead and I think, "we are failing."  Trying to squeeze the tears back into my eyes, I drive to work and wonder how it is possible that such a thing can happen.  And why is it happening?  Because of forces of nature such as years-long drought and famine that is beyond our control?  Sure, but only in the smallest way.  It is happening because human beings in Somalia are blocking the aid.  Because human beings are sacrificing other human beings like plastic pawns in a political game of chess.  Because instead of understanding that they can create something, they only know how to destroy the creations of others.

In the black depths of my come down, I think about our failures.  Because, if you see the potential, as I do, and if you see that we are the creators, then we are responsible for what we have created.  It's a very unpleasant and uncomfortable thought.  And then to watch the lunacy of the debt-ceiling debate and the astounding ignorance of many of our so-called representatives, I felt hopeless.  We are here in the 21st Century, with all of the wonders of the internet and iPhones and Brazilian waxes because we got here together.  Because we all agreed to play our parts so that collectively we could build something bigger and taller than any of us could have done on our own.  And yet, it seems that underneath the stage make-up, we hate each other.

So what's my solution?  Form a band!  Well, not really, but maybe in a way.  All I can think is to hope that we reconnect with our inner creators and recognize them in each other.  That we remember that this is our world and if we don't like the show we're seeing, we need to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboards, and begin the hard work of creating a new one.  Certainly one blog post won't change the world, but then again, there's always that 3% and you never know.  If we can get Zuckerberg in on the ground floor, squeeze out the Winklevoss twins and get set-up in a sweet shack in Silicon Valley, maybe we could have something.