Twelve by Twelve

I’m currently reading (a few chapters left) Twelve by Twelve by William Powers, a book I stumble across at the local library. I’m on a reading bender right now as part of my unwinding from a super-fast, super-stressful move and general life-shake-up. It’s my reward for getting through that and getting through inventory season at work without throttling people. I put this one off for a few weeks, but finally got around to reading it, and it’s been a seriously awesome trip.

It’s a memoir, certainly; we get a spattering of then present-day ruminations mixed in with stories from the author’s time working in various underdeveloped in the world. The present day situation is simple: spending time in a twelve by twelve dwelling on a few acres of permacultured land in North Carolina, part of some thirty-odd acres shared by a small number of dwellings. No plumbing, no electricity, nothing specific to do, just time spend being while the owner (not necessarily of the profession one might expect to have such unorthodox living situation) is off on a pilgrimage of her own.

There’s some good challenges that come up while reading this book. It’s somewhat thematic; Beth and I have recently seriously downsized our living situation. There’s been sacrifices — we’ve relocated some of our cats, and we’re still in the process of locating homes for a few others, and that’s been awfully hard on us, emotionally –but it brings us closer to living the way we want to live. The new place is smaller than we originally set out looking for, but at the same time she and I would often consider things like tiny houses and really, this place is spacious in comparison. It’s cozy and den-like feeling, and we’re both in love with it, and the dog, too, is much happier here, and the cats have adjusted well. (Really, that’s what counts, right?) So, reading both about this super-tiny living space and the way of living that synch up with our ideals, it’s been a great reminder to get my head out of tight day-to-day, one day at a time sort of living. Such is a well suited approach when one is in crisis mode, but once that crisis is over, which it was once the move was complete and things weren’t as tight, it’s necessary to set that approach aside.

We are excited to be able to support local businesses and to support sustainable food and living efforts, not only with our thoughts but with our money, again. Being able to do this again, to be able to do this more fully than we had been able to before, though, brings with it a certain amount of overwhelming awareness. There is so much that is wrong, so much that is harmful or wasteful or outright awful. You can’t fix everything, and not every issue can even be on the radar at the same time. It’s impossible, and it’s something I have struggled with for most of my life. For me, acting locally has to be good enough; I don’t want to be an activist in the grander sense of the word. I want quiet, I want to be left alone to live my life.

In Twelve by Twelve, we see the author struggle with the same overwhelming awareness and hopelessness, the temptation of giving in to that appealing ease of apathy. Reading about his own struggles, looking at “smaller” problems while knowing first hand there are huge world-wide problems, changed something within me, healed something deep. Reading him consider that a lot of our solutions, such as approaching the underdeveloped countries as if they need to be like us in order to be healthy and happy and safe (because we are so happy and healthy and safe, we Developed World folks) is the wrong solution, touched something.

There’s a lot of talk, too, about community, about compassion on a large scale, and that’s been kicking my butt, too. I’m not a social person. I don’t want or even need community in an every day or even every week or every month sense. I don’t know constant interaction. I do need, in order to stay compassionate and empathetic, some connection, from time to time. We didn’t instigate this move, and I’ve been carrying some anger around with me since it came about, and resentment. Inventory stress at work hasn’t helped. I’m taking stock, breathing deep, and getting back to a place of compassion and non-judgment.

It amuses me, in a detached sort of way, that compassion is such a big part of my path. It shouldn’t, I suppose, considering where I started, but nevertheless. I’m not a pacifist, I’m certainly not a turn-the-other-cheek person. Besides being Poseidon’s, I belong to Odin, for crying out loud. And yet, if I’m not compassionate, if I let the empathy dry up, then I’m miserable and little more than walking dead. It’s largely for myself that I strive toward compassion, but then, if we’re not living our lives for ourselves, what are we living them for?

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2 thoughts on “Twelve by Twelve

  1. There is a certain important element to community that I recognize, but I am not sure I could go to the interdependent lengths that I imagine you are talking of in regards to this book. Where community is a matter survival.
    We have mostly been rather spoiled in this that many of us will go years without evening knowing the name of our next door neighbors.
    Yet being social and being compassionate are two different issues altogether. It is not necessary to be excessively social to feel compassion, and yet I can see how the occassiona contact is necessary or else it is too easy to end up feeling utterly disconnected. You have no idea what a pleasure it was for me when I perhaps going through some of the most disconnected periods this year to have a couple of emails from you.
    Even the smallest of touches can have a huge impact, and often it takes little to sustain. I can completely understand the balance you maintain. It is too easy to be smothered by excessive contact, but the small touch every now and again is quite meaningful.

    • Seeing this super-duper late, as we’ve had connectivity issues with the new place and I haven’t managed to work my schedule out to get online often, *and* it’s actually been rather awesome to be disconnected and isolated these past few months, despite being in the middle of a city.

      I greatly value and greatly appreciate people who understand small but meaningful, quality versus quantity, even in such a thing as communication and social interaction. Part of my struggle is with my family back east. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with their mindset that quantity is as important, if not more so, than quality — it works for them. But it’s so alien to me, so at the opposite from my own needs and wants that I wonder, frequently, how I am the way I am. It’s a struggle to not feel guilty that I am the way I am and that I’m *happy* not having to interact a lot with even among my dearest beloved people. So, I’m pleased that my small contact with you added to your life in any way.

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