HIPPO Reads — curating your online reading experience

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I’m writing with deepest apologies for the long posting absence. A new venture has been taking up much of my time these days and I’m happy to announce it here:

HIPPO Reads is a literary startup focused on curating and delivering high quality, previously published content with an academic bent.

Think of us as TED Talks for readers – short pithy pieces with educational appeal, a perpetual reading list for the most interesting classes out there.  All pieces are accessible, but we don’t dumb it down. We select content with a level of depth that allows readers to sink their teeth into the subject at hand.

This week we featured a Lunar (Chinese) New Year inspired post on the impacts of modern migration. Today we’re featuring the cultural economy of gift giving — i.e., why you want chocolates and flowers on Valentine’s Day.

As for Cold Mountain Collective, I will continue posting here with great recommendations for sustainable practices, but if you’re hungry for more, you can also follow the curations at HIPPO Reads

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Carbon Emissions Fail: Air Travel

ImageI knew it when I walked along Dockweiler Beach in Los Angeles on Saturday, the wide stretch of sand directly below the flight path of one of the world’s busiest airports: air travel is not good for the earth.

Yes, air travel brings with it the promise of adventure, the ability to connect with new cultures, the possibility for the expanding of one’s personal/philosophical/psychic/spiritual horizons. But at the same time it’s awful for the air and climate change. 

As jet after jet spewed its noxious stream of carbon behind it, I wondered: is air travel my biggest sin?

ImageAnd then the NY Times answered. The answer was YES.

Thankfully, there are options for those of us concerned about our carbon footprint. For one, we can start by making fuel-efficient travel choices, such as less stops, an economy seat, and lighter luggage. We can also offset our emissions through programs like my personal favorite, Terra Pass

We can also become a powerful lobby — just as Americans have increasingly turned to LED lighting, reusable bags, and hybrid vehicles, we can put our money where our feet (carbon feet, that is) are: sustainable airline industry practices and airlines that place sustainability at their core (these include recent sustainability measures enacted by American Airlines and Virgin Airlines). 

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Having grown up in New England myself, I am very taken by Jane’s story here about blue lobsters. I fondly remember my father scuba diving off the shores of Massachusetts and bringing home his own ocean loot for dinner. He never caught a blue one though…

The Common Wanderer

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Blue lobsters are about one in two million. And yesterday, my uncle caught one. Now, lobstermen are pretty squirrelly so I’m not going to tell you where he got it or even his name. Suffice it to say he’s a lobsterman in Maine and yesterday he pulled up this lovely specimen.

According to the University of Maine Lobster Institute, naturally blue lobsters are extremely rare. Last summer a lobsterman in Maryland trapped one and gave it to the National Aquarium. And before that, a Nova Scotia man auctioned one off to the highest bidder.

My uncle’s not much for publicity. My cousin’s husband asked the Gulf of Maine Research Institute if they wanted it, but apparently they already have one. So my aunt tells me it will have to go to market.

But that seems like such a shame! Surely another aquarium would like a blue lobster. It would…

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Tribute to This Evening, Courtesy of Pessoa

IMG_0924“Brief dark shadow of a downtown tree, light sound of waterfalling into the sad pool, green of the trimmed lawn — public garden shortly before twilight: you are in this moment the whole universe for me, for you are the full content of my conscious sensation.  All I want from life is to feel it being lost in these unexpected evenings, to the sound of strange children playing in gardens like this one, fenced in by the melancholy of the surrounding streets and topped, beyond the trees’ tallest branches, by the old sky where the stars are again coming out.”    — Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

 

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When the Clock Struck Twelve: Hong Kong, 2001

article-2254718-16ACAE57000005DC-2_964x787I have to admit: like many (including the writer of this Atlantic article), I’m not the biggest fan of New Year’s Eve. The celebrations always feel contrived, the parties overwrought. Not to mention that in a globalized world, there’s a celebration happening every hour, and you’re reminded of this every time you turn on CNN or log on to social media. It’s someone’s New Year somewhere, but not yet yours (perhaps an apt motto for life in general).

That said, my most memorable New Year’s Eve was probably the New Year’s Eve that never was: I was twenty years old and traveling with friends in China and Hong Kong (I was living in China and my American friends came to visit for the holidays). Days before, we’d taken the long, slow (30 hour plus) train ride from wintery Beijing to the flashy, tropical isle off the Mainland’s southern shore—Hong Kong. Flights were expensive and lush—the train suited us better.

A friend’s Chinese father’s friend (one of those tenuous ‘guan xi’ relationships that only happen in China) put us up in a hotel none of us could afford and we felt like queens stuffed together, five to a room, saving up to try the afternoon tea service at the Peninsula in Kowloon (it did not disappoint).

Lan_Kwai_Fong_by_arcanjelThen New Year’s Eve arrived. Someone had heard of an all-night party taking place on the hippie backpacker enclave of Lamma Island. The plan was hatched to go to dinner on Hong Kong Island, grab some drinks at the bars near Lan Kwai Fong, then hop the last ferry to spend the evening on the beach, drinking and waiting for the sun to rise in this foreign land.

There were four of the six of us who decided to head to Lamma—Liz, Marcella, Liz’s brother Dave, and myself. We bought blue wigs and angel wings from a vendor near Central. We grabbed a quick meal (I remember nothing of the meal, where it was, what we ate) and then imbibed with locals and expats at some bar on a hill. I recall checking our watches too late and realizing we only had five minutes before the ferry departed (this was back before cell phones and when everyone wore a watch yet still forgot the time). We quickly settled our bill and jogged into the crowded streets, hailing taxis but failing miserably.

DSC_0134Angel wings pinned to our backs, blue wigs atop our heads, we ran down the island’s steep terrain toward the water. The ferries beckoned, white ships puffing smoke into the clear, humid night sky.

“Lamma Island!” We shouted to taxi drivers who sniffed at our requests. The streets were full of people drunkenly stumbling between bars, idling taxis bumping bumpers, incapable of moving past the crowds.

Finally, past the mayhem of the city center, a driver picked us up, and with our frantic calls for him to hurry, sped us to the ferry terminals.

“Here,” he pointed and stopped the meter. We paid, disembarked, ran to the nearest ferry, but it was not the Lamma Island one. A dock worker directed us down the long row of ferries. It was nearly a quarter mile to the Lamma Island ferry. We knew it left at 1120pm. The clock was ticking (again, this was when clocks had second hands that made sound, reminding us of time’s impertinence). We ran as fast as we could, angel wings fluttering behind us, blue hair flapping in the dense warm wind.

“Here!” my friend Liz shouted. Marcella ran to the ticket counter. But the ticket seller shook his head. The ferry wailed once, announcing its departure as it peeled away from the docks.

Dave collapsed in a heap at the ground, arms spread astral, eyes open to the night sky. Liz watched the ferry depart, standing silent and forlorn, as if this was the worst travesty she’d ever witnessed. It was 1122pm.

DSC_0126We remained there for a few minutes, not saying a word. There was the collective, unspoken sense we’d missed an opportunity we’d never again be given. Inside, we felt deflated and useless, that all we’d ever hoped from life was taken from us in one quick instant: the image of that ferry backing away, chugging through the sluggish Hong Kong waters to that distant, glittering isle.

We could picture the beaches crowded with partiers. We could imagine ourselves sitting on the sand, drinking one last beer as the sun rose over the water, orange and red and full of the promise of something we could see but not yet touch. We were twenty years old. The party was all that mattered. The party we would never attend.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that night. I’m sure we eventually consoled one another that we’d find a better party. I’m sure we folded up our angel wings, took off the wigs, meandered through the streets to find a crowd somewhere off Central, a crowd filled with party goers, cameras pointed to the sky, the faint whiff of firecrackers drifting down a damp alleyway. I’m sure we counted down the requisite 10-9-8… someone leading the count too early and someone else calling for the count to be repeated. I’m sure there was the lingering sense of one year passing into the next without much cause for celebration, that despite the teeming masses around us, despite the cheers, the blowing of plastic horns, the glitter painted onto cheeks and eyelashes, that it all felt mostly a farce: that this day was not much different than the one before, or the one to follow. What was it we were celebrating exactly anyway? Someone said before taking one last swig.

sunset-on-lamma-island-hong-kong

But on Lamma, we assured one another, the party would have meant something. On Lamma, we would have survived the night in order to witness the birth of a new year. We would have been a part of something larger.

Of course now I know this is all a farce, like most New Year’s celebrations. Since the Lamma Island incident, on New Year’s Eve I’ve hardly made it to midnight. I’m usually with a few friends, family, or maybe just my husband and our sleeping cat.

Still, there’s the lingering sense that this night is supposed to mean something. That we are supposed to look to the coming dawn with hope and inspiration, and that tomorrow will be different, and so will we. So will we.

I finally made it back to Lamma Island in 2007, but I didn't witness the sunrise.

I finally made it back to Lamma Island in 2007, but I didn’t witness the sunrise, just this pleasant scene.

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Resolutions of the Written Word: Lessons in Sustainability

“The mind of the man who dreams is fully satisfied by what happens to him. The agonizing question of possibility is no longer pertinent. Kill, fly faster, love to your heart’s content. And if you should die, are you not certain of reawaking among the dead? Let yourself be carried along, events will not tolerate your interference. You are nameless. The ease of everything is priceless.” — From The Manifesto of Surrealism by Andre Breton

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Resolutions are a funny, fickle thing we love to hate. We desire to improve upon ourselves, but somehow always end up falling short. For one, I had a number of resolutions to meet by the time I turned 30, notably: publish my first novel and have children. I’ve accomplished neither. I’m halfway past 32.

But 2012 also taught me a lot about learning how to let go of certain expectations in my life. Even goals now exist on a sliding scale and the word itself—’goal’—clings to what feel like antiquated ideas of ‘success’ and ‘importance’ that I see slowly fading to a distant, stupid, short-sighted youth.

Steinbeck, resolved to do something

Steinbeck: resolved to give up smoking?

But I’m not that old. Steinbeck, when he wrote this letter to his editor and friend Pascal “Pat” Covici, was much older than I (and wiser too).  He’d just finished writing East of Eden yet still he was burdened by an aching sense that the novel was not what he’d expected of it. He wrote, “Although some times I have felt that I held fire in my hands and spread a page with shining—I have never lost the weight of clumsiness, of ignorance, of aching inability.”

I’m with you, Steinbeck. Last year I gave birth to my novel—entrusting it with an agent who believed in it. The path to publication has been slower—and more mired in self-doubt—than I’d expected. Of course, my earliest scribblings of this novel began in 2004, if not earlier, when I had absolutely no intention of building a career as a writer. Then, I was a sinologist who would never have dreamed that one day I’d have an esteemed literary agent interested in my writing. Or that published authors would support my work. Or that this little project I’d dreamed up while sitting in my Chinese Baba’s kitchen in Beijing would become a manuscript, a story, a possibility.

Reading Pessoa this past summer in Lisbon's Alfama and feeling blissfully lost

Reading Pessoa this past summer in Lisbon’s Alfama and feeling blissfully lost

Over the years since I began the project, I recall several ‘resolutions’ involving my writing—most were amorphous and existential, things like ‘trust your work,’ ‘write what gives you meaning,’ and ‘read more.’ I doubt I met any of them in the time anticipated, but, if I think about it, I’ve probably learned a lot about myself, and my process, by setting them to begin with.

So then we come to that whole resolution of 2013 bit. The end of a year, the beginning of the next. The somewhat arbitrary turn of the calendar’s page (in an era when calendars cease to exist on the material page). What is my resolution? Is it to fail to make a resolution at all? What do I hope for my work, my writing, the world at large?

I would say, on a personal and selfish level, I resolve for my first novel to reach publication, to reach an appreciative audience. But of this process, even Steinbeck himself has his doubts:

“A book is like a man—clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.

Well—then the book is done. It has no virtue any more. The writer wants to cry out—”Bring it back! Let me rewrite it or better—Let me burn it. Don’t let it out in the unfriendly cold in that condition.”

As you know better than most, Pat, the book does not go from writer to reader. It goes first to the lions—editors, publishers, critics, copy readers, sales department. It is kicked and slashed and gouged. And its bloodied father stands attorney.”

For 2013: One foot in front of the next

For 2013: One foot in front of the next

So while I once never would have dreamed that I’d write a novel, perhaps 2013, and years beyond, may teach me something new about expectations, resolutions, and where I intend to be as a writer and a person. Then again, isn’t that the most fruitful lesson of resolutions? They are not necessarily predictors of who we will become, but telling reminders of who we are when we are at our best, the essence of who we are now.

And if all else fails, there is still time for further resolutions (even resolutions not to make a resolve), as Maurice Sendak’s editor, Ursula Nordstrom, reminded him in a 1961 letter (coincidentally, I will turn 33 in 2013):

You reminded me that you are 33. I always think 29, but OK. Anyhow, aren’t the thirties wonderful? And 33 is still young for an artist with your potentialities. I mean, you may not do your deepest, fullest, richest work until you are in your forties. You are growing and getting better all the time. I hope it was good for you to write me the thoughts that came to you. It was very good for me to read what you wrote, and to think about your letter. I’m sorry you have writers cramp as you put it but glad that you’re putting down “pure Sendakian vaguery” (I think you invented that good word). The more you put down the better and I’ll be glad to see anything you want to show me. You referred to your “atoms worth of talent.” You may not be Tolstoy, but Tolstoy wasn’t Sendak, either. You have a vast and beautiful genius. You wrote “It would be wonderful to want to believe in God. The aimlessness of living is too insane.” That is the creative artist—a penalty of the creative artist—wanting to make order out of chaos. The rest of us plain people just accept disorder (if we even recognize it) and get a bang out of our five beautiful senses, if we’re lucky. Well, not making any sense but will send this anyhow.

In 2013, I may find myself finishing a draft of a second novel, or I may not. I may come close, but not close enough. I may finally have children, or my body may decide otherwise. I may want a lot of things that do not come to fruition, but in the meantime, I may have lived a life. In fact, I probably will have lived a darn good one.

And a special thanks to Meg Waite Clayton’s 1st Books blog and her Writing Resolution Blog Hop for inspiring this post.

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Good Advice For the End of the World (as We Know It)

So about that ‘Mayan’ apocalypse. Oops. Yet another End of the World prediction that failed to materialize.

This is where I would spend my end of days...

This is where I would spend my end of days…

This article over on The Spirituality and Health blog may help alleviate any stress you had about predictions of doom and gloom, as well as provide some necessary reminders of why it’s important to live your life to the fullest.

Here’s some of the article’s necessary reminders:

At the end of the day (pun intended), it doesn’t matter whether you believe in astrology, ancient mystic wisdom, or anyone else who tells you that Revelations is upon us. The real question is: Do you want the world as we know it to end? Are you ready to let go of what’s been holding you back and make space for what’s next?

Total annihilation is, after all, a really juicy metaphor. The person you are today is made up of all the stories you have told about yourself up to this point, all the experiences that you’ve had that your brain has decided to be important. We so often forget that we are the ones with the choice to hold tight to these old stories or to be willing to write “THE END” and close the book at last.

Now is the time to learn to let go of all our old grudges and destructive patterns, make peace with the mistakes we’ve made, acknowledge all we’ve learned and all the good we’ve done, remember, forgive, and forget. Now is the time to leave our snakeskins behind.

IMG_1563On the subject, my dear friend Ingrid Contreras also interviewed a few writers about their thoughts on the apocalypse. Her compilation featured on KQED is refreshing, especially poet Eavan Boland‘s astute observation: “Why do we conceive of the world’s end when so many of us begin every day hoping for a new beginning?”

So here’s to new beginnings. Maybe humanity simply needs false endings in order to remember how to begin again.

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A Festivus For the Rest of Us

IMG_1502I always find the holidays a difficult triangulation between the desire to give in the ‘holiday spirit,’ the fear of contributing to environmental destruction, and the glittering temptation of mass produced holiday consumptionism.

And I’m not alone: According to RecycleWorks.org, waste per household increases by 25% between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Americans throw away 4 million tons of gift wrapping and shopping bags annually, buy 2.65 billion holiday cards, and spend an average of $800 per person on gifts.

IMG_1493This year I opted for a homemade gift of soy candles (thanks to supplies from Etsy) with eco-friendly dyes and scents, reusing cards from my wedding last year for the candle tags. While the design was a little homespun, watching friends examine the candles and incredulously asking ‘You made this? How?’ was worth all the effort.

Despite my occasional holiday scroogeness (the overplayed music, the garish lawn displays, the constant advertisements) nothing is more satisfying that combining meaning and eco-consciousness with generosity (and here’s a great list of how to eco-ify your holiday). In the true spirit of the holiday season, I’ve compiled the following Cold Mountain Collective gift guide this year, although anything homespun (knitting, anyone?) is also on my list:

For Home

il_fullxfull.396319810_jkzyNothing says the holidays like a wreath. I’ve been known to leave my wreaths up well beyond their shelf life, but with this one, I wouldn’t have to worry! A succulent wreath may last you a few holiday seasons! Want an eco-friendly Christmas tree? Inhabitat has some unconventional suggestions, including these LED indoor/outdoor lights. Etsy is always my go-to for everything locally produced and eco-friendly: try these bamboo tree ornaments for the kids.

For the Littles

large_216_110007-lApparently, I’m of the age where babies are springing out of strollers like that overflowing popcorn at the movie theatre. I’m always seeking out eco-friendly baby gifts for friends, so here are a few of my favorites: an Eco-Friendly Mobile, organic Made in the USA baby clothing by Adooka Organics and Baby Soy, and making art from nature as instructed by Nature’s Art Box (I don’t know if kids still do these kinds of things, but my childhood was full of repurposing fallen leaves, rocks, shells, etc. into artistic gifts).

P_500For Friends and Family

    • I don’t know how green any laptop computer actually is, but this bamboo version by Asus is probably as good as it gets.
    • Reduce, Reuse, RECYCLE: 1st dibs is chock full of vintage clothing, jewelry, furniture and art.
    • Portable eco-speakers? What now? You heard me.
    • Sustainable snowboards and snowboarding pants. Yup.
    • Forget leather: a hemp wallet to keep all your cash money in one spot.
Just a little something found on 1st Dibs

Just a little something found on 1st Dibs

  • For the cook in the family, opt for bamboo products by suitably named Bambu.
  • Earthy, eco candles that smell of fallen pine needles.

For Good

Remember that holiday episode of Seinfeld where George donates money in colleagues’ names to benefit a fictional organization called “The Human Fund”? Do that. But make sure the charity is a real one.

A gift that keeps on giving

A gift that keeps on giving

Some great options include:

  • Gifted carbon offsets at Terra Pass
  • Recycled key pendants (from The Giving Keys) that benefit individuals transitioning out of homelessness
  • TisBest Charity gift cards that benefit the charity of your choice

Now go and celebrate the Festivus Miracle.

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Thankful

Lovely reminder in the midst of news of many tragedies.

The Common Wanderer

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I am so grateful to be able to walk outside and find beauty, every day. My life may not be as full of world travel as it once was, but I get to have small adventures in my own backyard.

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And especially when the ugliness in the world rears its head, I am calmed and refreshed by the natural world around me.

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Sustainable (Hu)Man: Rediscovering the Old (as Adam)

I’m a bit obsessed with this new website I recently discovered. Aside from its slightly male-centric title (as such, I’m suggesting a re-title as ‘Sustainable HUman’), Sustainable Man provides a necessary addition to the conversation about sustainability and mindful living.

The blog states:

To “sustain” something, we must prolong it indefinitely, which begs the obvious question: what is it that we want to sustain?  Perhaps we ought to start with something as simple as “life”. Preferably, a comfortable life with as little suffering as possible. Ideally, a world where every human being has the opportunity to live a healthy life, free to learn, explore and create beauty in the world.  Sustainability, therefore, is the discussion about how to achieve the goal of creating this world that can sustain this kind of life thousands of years into the future for everyone.

The simplicity that sustainable living proposes is so tempting, is it not? Which brings me to a seemingly tangential, but actually quite related plug: a few weeks back, while in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I had the pleasure of stumbling into a new boutique in the area, proprietor Adam Irish’s Old as Adam. (Okay, in truth, I wasn’t exactly stumbling — I was sober and my parents suggested my husband and I explore the tiny, riverside shop).

Adam Irish of Old as Adam

That said, Old as Adam reminded me of one of those delightful ‘curiosity’ shops that Owen Wilson’s character writes about in Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris. Irish himself sat at an antique desk, bow tie perfectly tied and tweed jacket draped over a vintage chair, eating a Singaporean curry rice from nearby restaurant Street (the juxtaposition of modern global with antique local was not lost on Irish). Still, the Old as Adam philosophy is not one of simple romantic nostalgia, but a repurposing and re-imagining of the material world. As the shop’s website eloquently states:

My aims are more than to collect beautiful and bizarre stuff. I search for things that make us question the dictates of the present. An old object’s purpose, quality, aesthetics, and the lost way of life and perspective it embodies can teach as much about the past as it can about the present. Holding (or in fact wearing) something belonging to another time connects us to history more than any history book. Repurposing that object for the present is an act of rebellion against a disposable, consumer-driven society that in its dogged pursuit of progress often fails to see what is left behind. One who appreciates old good things reaps the fruits of such ignorance.

Sustainable (hu)man indeed! At Old as Adam, I found a gorgeous 1940s White Stag red wool jacket perfect for the holidays in colder climes. I also witnessed my husband, for the first time in his life, delighting in shopping—he snagged a well-priced vintage Gucci cashmere sweater, made in Ireland in the 1950s, at a time when clothing was made with such care it could last for generations (and has).

The sustainable ethos lives on in Old as Adam. I encourage anyone in the area to visit this shop; you’ll likely find yourself delighting in the offerings for hours and recalling a material past when the material was an artform in itself. This is not your local WalMart or Ikea’s throw-away, Chinese factory-made wares, but painstakingly crafted clothing, furniture, and artifacts meant to honor their origins, never bound for your city’s trash dump.

Old as Adam is evidence of a growing call for the objects we purchase, wear, and use to be ones created with a sustainable vision in mind. I thank Irish for his honorable pursuit of a past in which objects were created for lasting utility, not for a disposable culture mindlessly trashing this earth.

Old as Adam
33 Ceres St.
Portsmouth, NH 03801

Hours: Fri and Sat, noon to 9pm; Sun noon to 5pm; during the week by chance/appt
Etsy shophttp://www.etsy.com/shop/oldasadam

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