this was such a beautiful read. Both the writing and the embroidery--both threads of meaning and connection through time and place. I used to embroider handkerchiefs as gifts too--I got out of the habit, and was never taught how to sew, but there's something timeless about it that I loved. That said, I have a quilt I was going to embroider a poem on for my son that I started when he was about three and it is still unfinished--I'm making good on the promise that it will be finished by the time he leaves for college. 😭 The line work and others of your women ancestor's is so moving and beautiful, grateful to have learned more about it.
Thanks for this, Nia. It makes me happy that you're again finding time to write in residency. When you think and write, it's good for the world. We get observations like this from you on the human condition: "The messy, the loving, the growth and form of relationships, the birdsong and smell of lilacs, the loneliness and desire to be known, the care and mutual aid, the inefficient and creative."
I have not read The Great Transformation, but it sounds like I ought to. I did read the article you posted in one of your comments: Karl Polanyi Explains It All. It definitely piques my interest.
But once again, as with almost everything I read—even so-called progressive treatises, even passionate appeals to humanitarianism, even those noble calls to justice and the common good—there are bedrock values and principles that remain unacknowledged and unspoken. They have become so normalized as to become invisible. Almost everything I read is predicated upon an anthropocentric view of the world. It is simply understood that human happiness and prosperity are the highest values in the cosmos, that all social and political institutions are to be instituted with those ends in mind, that all forms of injustice have only to do with injustices suffered by human beings, that all social and political reforms are undertaken in order to expand and more equitably distribute happiness and prosperity (or at least the opportunity to achieve them) to the greatest number of humans, and that the rest of nature is mere standing reserve, or fodder, with which to advance those highest values. Our whole way of thinking and being, every aspect of it, is built upon this house of cards.
I have two other things to say here:
1) The trial for Held v. State of Montana begins tomorrow. Will you be following?
2) This composition was pure joy to read. Thank you for the gift.
There is no third thing. The pillow is calling me to come dream the night away. I shan't refuse.
Lovely, thank you. Feels like so many areas of our lives have been cordoned off, habitualised and siloed, and the threading is an essential element of reconnecting these apparently disparate parts, whatever form that threading takes. Home baked cookies are the best! 🍪
I love this writing. The parallel personal and political (or economic/ policy) reflections. And you raise such a powerful point about human motivation, which can be infinitely diverse.
Homo Economicus is such a bizarre construction, and so easily disproven by our actions that can't be explained by selfish rationality. In my own academic work (which is maybe just beginning), I have been trying to identify the levers for land use change - and understanding the behaviour of farmers and landowners is critical to this. While we all need to earn enough money to pay our bills, we don't necessarily chase every bit of profit available. In Europe and the UK, the main tools for changing farming practices are economic incentives. That so many policy makers are shocked when landowners continue to resist change even when they are losing profit, shows how deeply the capitalist understanding has penetrated.
Golly Antonia -- there I was happily reading along, nodding and feeling and absorbing and thinking about capitalism intertwined with the singular magnificence, the humanity and inhumanity, of Uptown Butte with all its mess and charm and grief and wind and sun and birds and love of place--well I don't really have words for it which is fine because you do-- and it was so perfect to slip from there into chopping wood and digging holes (skills I very much admire and once prided myself on), and then back into the bliss of embroidery and the way the actions of needle and yarn and cloth have opened up so many things for somany -- and then suddenly, there were my words --and -- oh my-- surprise and delight and confusion and I had to pause and spin a little yarn before, of course, I was puled to read on. Thank you again for all you do. (Not sure if what I justwrote is actually a sentence but I'll leave it as is cuz... why not?)
This gave me goosebumps, Nia: “When we know—don’t we?—that what pulls us through and along life is so much more than that. The messy, the loving, the growth and form of relationships, the birdsong and smell of lilacs, the loneliness and desire to be known, the care and mutual aid, the inefficient and creative.”
That was simply a lovely, calming read. Something I need to find more of in these difficult times. Thank you.
Your essays INSPIRE me in unexpected ways most every time. Forgive if this seems a tangent. It is 100% inspired by an important paragraph in your essay.
Your short profile of "The Great Transformation" was an eye-opener. I have struggled to bring some loose ideas in an essay to suitable form hence it wallows in the Draft folder. I was reminded when Substack changed the publish home page. The [Posts] tab now provides a count of posts, drafts and scheduled. I was alarmed by the number of half-baked Drafts. I could not resist but to make a quick pass through and separate wheat from chaff.
The paragraph you shared with the warning it was printed in 1944 is powerful. My working premise for the period was the world broke into two camps. I don't know enough about the Soviet and PRC journeys to write with authority. My sense of Post WWII is different. I believe now the US imposed a better version of itself shaped by the FDR era carving out the proper role of government that did not leave everyone on their own. I think the national identity that emerged in Post-War Germany and Japan in many ways represent "the more perfect Union" that could never be without a fight in the US. The conquered were blessed because they are not bound by a festooned Constitution that is unchanging.
These democracy 2.0 instances eventually emerged and challenged the US in unexpected ways. We had created these more perfect unions yet when faced with reinvention we reverted in the late 70s and early 80s to Neoliberalism (Reagan and Thatcher). We live today with the consequence of this with greater inequality, a loss of faith "in the system" and a creep toward Fascist instincts. I am an optimist. I hope and believe we will throw off this 1980s pivot and return to the promise of looking out for everyone. I agree with the thesis of the book and imagine the creep toward fascism in a two party system is inevitable until we embrace a reinvention. Perhaps Democracy 3.0. I fear there are many who will fight to the last for Neoliberalism 2.0. This is the reinvention to revitalize life for all of us.
What a gorgeous essay! The thoughts on embroidery are so evocative to me-- my grandmother embroidered, too, and I did when I was younger (now I knit). Her embroidery always reminded me of the song Bread and Roses-- of kindling beauty amid the grinding labor outside and inside the home.
Thanks for all of this, and especially for the beautiful shot of the sky, which comes as rare and refreshing fruit given the smoky haze here right now.
What clouds you have in Butte! Wonderful! Over in Red Lodge we have had a few dramatic displays every day after the rain clouds begin to breakup.
My wife is the baker, which works out well because I have difficulty following the same recipe more than once. I experiment too much for baking.
Oh, this one is glorious. Thank you <3
Nicely done. Glad you have the retreat time. Butte is one of those places in the world that's just a little different.
Surpised you had not run onto Karl Polanyi before. But yes, we have been warned about where we seem to be heading for a very long time. For some reason, reading that line you quote triggered a childhood memory, a time when dad got hurt on the job. I guess, feeling that moment roll through me again, that young as I was, I knew we had no safety net. It turned out better than feared. But I do not understand why we not only accept, but idolize such a harsh world.
Lovely thoughts to read this morning. Writing, skies, birds, embroidery, ancestral legacies.