- Keep it simple
- Easy does it
- Listen and learn
- One day at a time
- Perseverance furthers
- "Bless them, change me"
- There are many good things about 12-Step programs like AA, NA, OA, GA, et al. One of them is: they don't discriminate.
- No matter who you are, where you come from, no matter what crazy things you've gotten into, or why or how you did, you soon find out in any group you
Even if Arcosanti doesn't claim to be a 12-Step 'place,' it seems obvious that time spent learning to examine one's own baggage is time well-spent - hardly a waste of time, right? And if some arconauts have gone on, after leaving Arcosanti, to "work the steps," and if some had started to before they arrived, surely some would benefit if they took it upon themselves to begin right now.
(Ironically, 'bottoming out' can be A Good Thing even if it feels awkward if/as/when it happens.)
That said, getting an addict to acknowledge the need for change is another matter altogether. It's pretty much axiomatic that a chemically dependent person can rarely be forced, coerced, or even readily coaxed into giving up his/her albatross. But if he or she does, s/he soon discovers life feels different when it's not spent staggering under the weight of chemical dependency.
And *that* said, who knows what freedom from petro-chemical dependency feels like, right? Such a colossal addiction! It is such an enormous project, to challenge that addiction, that I think the Serenity prayer, the keynote of every 12-Step program meeting ("G-d grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, the Wisdom to know the difference") needs to have another virtue "the Patience to endure my own mistakes" added on to it.
Paolo, patient though he could be if/when he put his mind to it, was not a student of comparative religion. Nor is it likely he would have concluded (had anyone ever suggested it to him) that the 12-Step philosophy might be of use to him personally. In fact, he wasn't big on "touchy-feely" talk, not to put too fine a point on it. Many people - me included - tried to get him involved in community development, the city planning side of urban architecture; but despite his having likened cities to organisms and his having envisioned 'arcology' as promoting a more humane urban environment, the fact was that the niceties of coaxing strategic, substantive participation in that specific sort of planning and/or development at Arcosanti simply wasn't his thing.
Which was an omission that was, IMO, detrimental since the earliest designs for Arcosanti show its original intention was to serve as habitat for 5000. To compare: Colleges like Hobart, Colgate, Grinnell, and Reed have a student population of less than 5000. Yale, Brown, Howard, Duke, U. of Arkansas (Fayetteville), U. of Montana (Missoula), and Binghamton (SUNY) have between 5000-15000.
Which is why I now say: Let's get on with it. Full steam ahead. Let's keep building that urban laboratory in central Arizona.
Caveat: I report my opinion as a point of information. No slings, no arrows, no barbs attached.
What wasn't done, hasn't been done yet. Whatever wasn't done (whenever it wasn't done) doesn't mean it can't be done.
What can be done, still can be done. Should be done. What's stopping us?
Our collective cultural habit of automobile-dependence, our war-fueled, drug-compromised economy, with all its attendant addictions to fossile fuels, can be held responsible for many social problems but surely not this one. Hold a mirror up to that material culture we all pretty much occupy, you see reflected the habit-behaviors of addicts. Self-defeating denial-perpetuating addictions just keep on going.
Sometimes, somehow even expanding...
Thus, our addictive society is enabled to avoid change.
But that's not the whole picture and it needn't impede Arcosanti's continuing construction.
You put one foot in front of another, my mother said. To get anywhere, no matter how difficult or complicated the terrain. That's the strategy. Just that. So this bears repeating, even if you've heard it before:
No matter how many steps a journey may take, they all start with just one. Let's take that first step, however we can.
For my part, some eight years ago, on a sojourn away from Arcosanti while I was working with him on his writing, I wrote to Paolo to ask about this, as follows:
I want to tell you about something I’ve discovered since I’ve been back east, an outcome of seeing far more television than normal for me at Arcosanti. Are you aware of how many TV shows – in fact, entire TV networks, are devoted to home repair, home improvement, personal household organization, landscape and interior design, and the like? I was amazed when I tumbled into/onto this phenomenon. I’d heard about and caught glimpses of it, but hadn’t studied or researched. Now that I've viewed many of them, I can see why they’re hugely popular.
They’re all part of a new genre called “reality television” and – having now seen more than a few, I find they actually can be enthralling. For a number of reasons. The range of projects these shows handle run the gamut: from an overhaul of a single room in an apartment or house, to a totally complete home makeover. Some of the shows focus on landscaping a yard (back or front); some just help people get rid of clutter!
The “get rid of clutter” shows can get very poignant. The host or hostess is a design and de-clutter specialist. Part of the job is to help the disorganized, clutter-collecting person go through his or her personal debris so s/he can decide what to get rid of! In a subtle way, the designer becomes that person’s intimate partner. The decluttering designer is imposing yet personal, both at once: s/he impels an immediate, personalized reaction, and very directly challenges a certain type of consumer.
I think the shows fascinate for various reasons, chief among them an interest in design and the psychology of how people resolve issues of personal space. (My limited but intense experience as a general contractor has been a contributing factor in my perception of these shows, leading to my considering using some of the technical tricks about rebuilding that could come in handy when we get to the project of retrofitting, in the most arcological way possible, the 1930s cottage some 40 miles east of Manhattan that has been my home while I've been apart from Arcosanti these past few months. I'll tell you more about that when I see you, which I hope will be very soon; but for now, I will just explain what I see as the positive and negative aspects of all these type of shows.
The positive thematic focus is consistent and useful to consider. Briefly, it’s this: Order is necessary. Neater is better, but “neat” doesn’t mean “rigid.” Since hopeful outlook is important, the shows all convey confidence-building messages that can reinforce a person's self-esteem: “You are a worthwhile person.” “You can accomplish this,” etc. Money is acknowledged as a consideration but the shows all seem to demonstrate that minimalist budgets needn't get in the way of achieving nifty results.
The negative aspect, the downside, may be a bit subtle; but what it comes down to is that what is being touted, evidently, is - after all is said and done - the “American way of life.” In the main, what that means is that the “American ideal” (i.e., a single family home) is not being challenged at all, is not even thought of as an aberration. What all these shows depend upon is the viewer’s belief that things have to look nice to be nice; that it takes effort and investment to achieve results. To accomplish all this, things must be sought. And bought. Things like: construction materials, paint, fabric, decorative objects - not to mention tools! Products of an enormous manufacturing sector and the market economy are involved. It’s no accident that Home Depot is a major sponsor.
But this paradox is no more of a paradox than the one many people take note of at Arcosanti, where what we are building is (with mostly volunteer labor) and has been a company town, the significant industry of which is the manufacture of our lovely decorative product: sculpted ceramic and bronze wind bells.
Even if I absolutely don’t want to live without mine, my attachment to them doesn’t make them as important to all humanity, to human existence, as clean air, healthy soil and potable water, does it?
Even if to me, they symbolize those essentials, the paradox is obvious, is it not?
I find I want to learn to be more mindful of my priorities so I can stick to them. We’re all about “getting our priories straight,” aren’t we? Decision-making is a huge challenge, individually, and collectively. A de-clutter consultant helps an overwhelmed consumer make decisions about what to keep. Another one declares, “You are a visual person” to explain why, in her design, she’s substituted storage on visible shelves for commonplace chests of drawers. Another has a hugely oversized, Japanese-joinery-styled, 3-part wooden conference table (each part on rollers) built for the brand new office space of a small charitable organization that raises money to feed hungry children.
Viewing all of that led me to start thinking about what I could learn from these shows that might be of use to us at Arcosanti. First thing I wondered was: How is it decided who becomes a subject for them?
The consistent factor is, there is always a “human interest” angle. I believe this is because curiosity about ourselves and our fellows is an overriding human preoccupation. Furthermore, the shows are unscripted: exchanges between participants are spontaneous, lively, self-revealing.
Buying and selling are inevitably part of our social makeup as humans, as you are aware. Even a barter system requires an element of acquisition and de-acquisition. All we human creatures need each other’s curiosity and/or interest if we want to sell a product or service, even – (and here’s another paradox) a product or service that is anti-consumerist, anti-materialist!
People's curiosity turns into conviction when they feel empowered, when they feel they are able to do what they believe has to be done, what needs doing. I know you are aware of this. Your commitment to Arcosanti demonstrates how serious your conviction is.
But what do you do, what can you do - by which I mean, what do we do, can we do, to empower others?
With much affection from Colly’s Clara – always, your Claire