Friday, May 5, 2023

good morning from the flight deck


My first airplane ride was when I was 13; my parents put me on a flight from NY to Toronto to be with my Aunt Seija who would prepare me for my inaugural trip abroad; Finland, the family’s ancestral home. I remember the careful consideration of what to wear on the plane (I was taught we dressed up to fly) and that smoking was still allowed on planes. In Finland I remember the prolific and beautiful cakes, the excellent makkara (Finish for sausage), the Savolina Opera Festival in a great Castle, midnight sun and feeling incredibly homesick.

Since then I’ve traveled a lot all over, mostly for work. I don’t like to travel much anymore. I like to stay on the farm. I like my dogs and my sheep, my employees and the work we do. In fact, when I boarded a flight last week to visit a friend/former student and see her new land (!) based (!) business (!) I was jolted by my unfamiliarity with airport life and reminded once again what an odd microcosmic cross-section of humanity is on display in airports from dramatic displays of basic needs to stunningly overt portrayals of classism. I smile a lot in airports at whoever will look my way - which if you know me is probably shocking because I’m not a smiler - but I think people need human support in airports. But airport humanity is not what I came here this morning to discuss. What I want to talk about is the incredible rigor and structure that supports flying in general and how I came, Thursday night, to see the advantage of structure in a new way…

I am that person who always leans to the window to look at everything that is happening on the tarmac, the hustle of skymeal trucks, luggage trains, and air traffic controllers. The communication rigor: the checks and cross-checks and the phenomenon of the control tower. Such intricate structure allows for such an incredible feat - 45,000 flights handled by the FAA daily

If it were up to me, I would cancel the global economy and ground all air traffic in order to give the most species a chance to survive climate change. If that were to happen so many structures would disintegrate and others would start to emerge…I encourage this fantasy in a positive light (i.e. instead of the unraveling of civilization at this bifurcation point; try to imagine it’s RISE).

One portion of my adult education at the boarding school which is Worlds End is devoted to making or getting as many of my needs met from my immediate surroundings. To take the end of a thread and follow it all the way back to the source: the energy of the sun. To be able to unfold the entirety of a meal, an article of clothing, a cup, or a structure in one place is an incredibly powerful teaching tool as well as a spiritual practice of being in relationship with the materials and beings around you. I’m not an overtly spiritual person but I become very moved by the intricacies of mutually beneficial relationships, symbiosis, and continually locating myself inside an ecosystem. 

I’m continually struck by the power of narratives. I’ve always told myself I was terrible at structure. Through confirmation bias, I reinforced this narrative over and over again. When I was looking at the airport last week I was seeing all sorts of immutable structures - from security checks to the schedule and methods used to clean the bathrooms to the protocols of ordering at Starbucks. Despite how you feel about airports, they are miraculously efficient feats of engineering. I thought; how do I implement more structure at Worlds End/Saipua in order to achieve the miraculous feat of engineering new ways to be in relationship with our world in order to help conjure new paradigms?

I’ve been struggling through Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition. She describes the importance of seeing the globe from space as a pivotal moment in our existence, the Archimedean Point at which we can consider earthly nature objectively and separate ourselves from it. Flying into ATL I was struck by the scale of shipping/distribution centers. All the stuff in the world that we figure we need, then figure out how to make, and then figure out how to distribute. It’s interesting to catch myself thinking that I’m above that. As if I don’t belong to that nature down there that buys toilet paper, pens, apple products, all sorts of polymers for various farm applications, unitards for my imagined ballet practice, episodes of Succession, and all the materials that stack up behind the physical production of such a feat. Above it all, cruising at 40,000 feet!

I laugh at myself now and my hubris. Here’s the course correction: perpetually locating myself in these systems, mapping the coordinates of my embodied self in the physical realm with its complex web of relations. Which is to say avoiding the dogma of do’s and dont’s and instead working to consider my choices within the framework of what it is to be me, today, operating inside the various systems that make up civilization and the natural world’s infrastructure that it’s teetering on. How do we tinker with those systems when can we work completely outside them?

[I know you are probably so sick of this example, but it’s a useful playing card for me: the sweaters that Susan knits from yarn I spin from our sheep’s wool - this is an article of clothing I wear most days and that operates as a powerful example of tinkering outside systems (i.e. an article of clothing that comes into existence outside of the fashion, textile, manufacturing industries). Food grown here and served here Sundays in coyote cafe is another example, although one could find holes in this - we buy our seeds, supplies, etc and our food is influenced by the culinary trends of the day, etc. I think it’s better to strive towards ideals than be obsessed with perfection on the journey. Anyone living in a city and growing a cherry tomato plant is doing this work when they garnish a salad with something they grew. I do have a more critical eye for the expensive greenwashing that goes on in the fiber world as it intersects with fashion; there’s a VC-backed cashmere company that works with Mongolian nomadic goat herders and gives them fair wages for their fiber. I like any farmer getting paid more but something feels off with the optics and I don’t like that it’s still a system that links the wealthiest people in one part of the world to the poorest people in the other with only the whisper of relationship brought to you by some highly stylized journalistic photos of Mongolians and their goats on the open range. I mean, that’s a sort of double consumption.]

And before I close, there’s another important course correction: I am capable of creating and sustaining structure. Worlds End wouldn’t be where it is today without all the various structure that’s been built and implemented there over the last 10 years. We eat oatmeal, without fail, every day for breakfast. Some of us more enthusiastically than others. 

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