Friday, June 18, 2010


being on facebook, as everyone on the planet is, i recently added the application that allows me to play "farmville". now i am not a farmer--though i am quite good with plants, as masae, the elderly asian tenant in my building, will tell you. last year she cautiously gave up the planters along the drive to my landscaping skills, and the place has never looked better, thank you very much. i proceeded to pull odd looking plants and i added groundcover, and i transplanted some of the remaining plants to better locations and generally made the planters look as though they made sense.

i got this talent for working with plants from my father, who was also very good working with plants. back when i was growing up in the early 70's, my dad was the one who did the yardwork. in fact, back then that is what dads did! on weekends, they mowed lawns, trimmed hedges, pulled weeds, and then stood with the hose watering the whole place down while shooting the bull with the neighbor dads. very unlike today, where doing yardwork is now considered "manual labor", and everyone just hires a mexican gardener with power equipment. now my dad was mexican, which may have contributed to his gardening talent, but i have to tell you that ethnicity comes with no guarantee! the mexican gardener that our building uses is pretty much just a plant butcher--there is no artistry evident--fortunately he doesn't come near my driveway planters.

anyway, i learned to do yardwork from my dad. he taught me that. it helped that i loved working with plants...i loved watching them grow and respond to care and watering. i loved the balance between having control over nature and allowing nature its rein. plants always surprise you, that's the thing. you can actually have a relationship with plants, which i do to this day.

but i am not a farmer. however, you would not know this by looking at my farm in farmville. in just a few days, i have planted and harvested eggplant, peanuts, wheat, strawberries, squash, and soybeans. i currently have lilacs growing in one patch of ground. i am almost a level 7 farmer. but i must confess, i am not the only one responsible for my farm's prosperous condition. the only reason my crops are growing all the way to harvest is because my neighbors are coming over and fertilizing them (my sister and two of my neices). now, i think that this is the only way to get your plants fertilized, because i have looked in the market and fertilizer is not available to buy! i find this very interesting. what this means is that in order to have a successful farm, you HAVE to have friends as neighbors. if you plan to start your farm in the middle of nowhere and intend to remain isolated, your crops will eventually wither and die. they will die. there will be nobody around to fertilize them.

this is where farmville ceases to be just an internet game.

i read somewhere that someone has called farmville a waste of time. whoever this person is, they are sorely missing the point. by setting the game up so that participants have to rely on the kindness and generousity of our neighbors, the creators have, by accident or by intent, simulated the kind of community culture that our societies lived out for thousands and thousands of years. as i have mentioned in previous posts, up until the industrial revolution, we had to rely on others or we would not have survived. usually, everyone had to contribute to the wellbeing of the whole community. of course, we still have to rely on others to survive, we just don't have to interact with them anymore. farmville encourages community, albeit a digital one, but i will tell you that since my neighbors are family who live far away from me, this feels as close to the real thing as i can get living in los angeles. we visit each others farms, fertilize each others plots, and give each other gifts. we hear about each others progress, and get to share in the spoils of everyone who prospers. lovely.

but there is one hitch.

whenever you visit anyone else's farm, they are never there. there are only the amimals: chickens clucking, ducks quacking, cows mooing, lambs bleeting. but no other farmers. it is eerie--you stop in and everything seems fine, but nobody is there. so what do you do? you fertilize the crops, maybe chase away some foxes, and then leave. later, the owner will come back and notice that you have been there, and they may send you a nice gift. but why isn't anyone ever home when i go to visit???this bothers me, and is the primary flaw in a game that attempts to promote community. i am not sure which is worse: seeing people in reality who i never talk to; or never seeing people in cyberspace who i want to talk to.

i have been told that there are other games that allow more interaction, and you can actually create an avatar, which is both cool and spooky. but in the meantime, i will continue to tend my farm and fertilize my neighbors crops, until i can figure out what my next online adventure will be. in a way, i think i am "trying on" ways of being so that i can match a pleasurable online experience to a real life city. i have already decided that, wherever i go, i want to have a relationship with plants, but in don't want to give up my relationship to people in order to do that. the cows can tend to each other though..

Friday, June 11, 2010

different, but the same

before i continue with my series on dismissal, disregard and disgust, i wanted to write about some thoughts i have been having about differences. while it might seem like i am focusing on words that start with the letter "d", i assure you that this is not my intent. but as i think on it, i will admit that "d" words do carry a certain allure for me. let's face it, there is no way to tiptoe through a word starting with the letter d. and when that word is a descriptor (another d), then it is especially delicious to spit out of the mouth.

but we were going to write about difference, yes?

difference. it is perceived, more than actual (isn't everything?). and yet, as i like to say, "what a day a difference makes". difference is one of the key motivators in changing anything at all--we want something to be different. but here is where we mess it up--because difference is more about changing the inside than changing the outside. you know the old saying: "wherever you go..."

so as i spend time thinking about the places i have been recently and how life would look were i to live there, i have to frequently pull my ass out of the clouds and check what i am looking at to make sure that i am seeing it with my feet on the ground. this is because there are two considerations for me as i decide where i should move to: how different do i want this place to be; and, how different do i want the experience of myself to be?

thinking about the east bay, and even portland to an extent, i have noticed that in both those cities, i was able to recognize myself. the surroundings were not so different that i did not feel, in part, like i could be at home, albeit a smaller, greener home with better coffee. there were still people on cell phones, there were still cars, there was still bad service, sunshine, and bad dance music. but there were also lots of bikes, and helpful people, and bookstores, and people who walked, and lovely rain, and art. these were the differences i noticed. you might argue that all of the things in both lists can be found in los angeles, and you would be right, but what i am talking about is proportion. the proportion of the first list is greater in los angeles, while the reverse seems true in the east bay and portland. the question i have to ask myself is: how different does my potential new home need to be? but then in the same breath i need to also ask: how different do i need to feel there?

the mistake that is often made is assuming that a change in self will accompany a change in place. sometimes this is true. but i did get the feeling that, at least in the east bay, i could sort of "resume" being myself in this different place. i mean, it is still california, and people speak english, and they have whole foods markets and even an ameoba records. i could imagine setting up a cozy apartment much as i have here, and blogging just as i am now. would it be different enough? or would i move there and find, one day, that i have just "changed the wallpaper" in what is otherwise my same life?

i checked out edinburgh, scotland, the other day on the web. my friends from florida, darren and al, live there. they speak english in scotland, but it sounds so different (al says "arse" instead of "ass"--i like it--sounds like he is referring to a pirate's ass). i also know that they have the edinburgh fringe festival there every year, which sounds pretty groovy. all in all, europe as a whole is certainly different, but is it too different? i have been to europe--specifically spain and italy, and as i recall, i still recognized myself in both of those places. hmmm. that gets me thinking. perhaps the change i seek needs to start from within. i have to tell you, i can't believe i am writing that, it sounds so new agey, which is SO not me, but if, as i said earlier, that change is perception, then maybe it is not such a mystical statement--maybe it is a neurological issue. but if that is the case, then what would i change inside? what, in my way of thinking, would i alter? what, in the way i perceive things, would i want to be different?