Resolutions are odd things, a grab bag of idle wishes, perennial self-improvement goals mixed up with a few tasks with clear performance benchmarks. I can vow to b e m o r e p a t i e n t, exercise regularly, apply for a few grants, start my next book, stay in better touch with my family, and a year from now the results will themselves defy consistent assessment. Well, any grants applied for? Yes or no. Book started? Yes or no. More p a t i e n t? What’s your point? I don’t have all day.
I’ve always felt that New Year’s Day was misplaced. Inventing January is another one of those things the Romans did for us, but the day we know as Labor Day makes a better New Year. That’s of course the academic in me speaking, remembering that each fall always felt like the start of something new and promising. I loved the whole back-to-school package, the new shoes and clothes, true, but more so the new notebooks and pens. I suspect that all teachers at whatever level carry that sense of the New Year beginning with fall semester rather than “spring” semester. Besides “spring” in no way describes something that begins in January; it’s a sick joke.
I’m sure there are those who would argue for the real spring, starting in March, as the New Year’s start. Mother Nature subscribes to that one. But Spring New Year, the first harbinger of which is the arrival of the Burpee catalogue—check out those Astilbes—arrives mid-semester and prefigures a rush to the end rather than a beginning. While new shoots and leaves are erupting I’m thinking of everything that needs to be done before the school year ends.
We should just acknowledge that there are more fresh starts in any given year than just January 1. Maybe that’s why I never been a New Year’s Eve kind of person. It’s a strange celebration that is devoted to watching a clock tick, a triumph of abstraction over experience. The Fall New Year is marked by days and weeks of preparation and is celebrated in a full day, the first day of school. Rituals like Finding Your Place, the Reading of the Syllabus, and Beseeching the Administration for Favors are enacted each year to propitiate the gods of fresh starts. It is a full experience, both personal and communal, not merely a tick or a tock.
May brings another New Year as the figure-ground of my weeks reverses from mostly WAAC with one day at the Museum to mostly Museum to one at WAAC. But the curatorial world has its own rhythms of endings and beginnings. Green Community the exhibition has closed, ceding the spotlight to House of Cars—insert inescapable irony here—and I felt I had permission to put off any new starts until the calendar demanded it of me. That would be today.
At my NBM desk I’ve sorted through the Green Community moraine, clearing a place where Reyner Banham and Vitruvius now sit side by side awaiting my attention. At my WAAC desk I’ve put last semester’s books back on the shelf and signed off on stack of draft thesis books. The hypotheses and problems on both desks in 2010 are as usual similar and mutually reinforcing, positively chiasmic in fact, but they are not new. They are different framings and formulations of the eternal questions of nature, culture, technology and us as expressed in our constructions. That ought to keep me busy.
In the end, Green Community got a month reprieve, closing on November 29 instead of October 25. My last moments with my exhibition were Thursday evening, November 19. We had spent the morning on Capitol Hill, hosted by Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Alison Schwartz, doing a panel discussion for a roomful of staffers. At the table sat three of the contributors to the book, Jonathan Rose, Tom Daniels, and Kaid Benfield, and with only a tiny bit of prompting from the moderator—me--, we had a long and substantive discussion on the array of issues in front of us and what the federal government in particular can do. For me it was an event both humbling and inspiring: humbling because of the depth, range, and passion of the panelists with whom I was honored to share the stage; inspiring for the seriousness and forthrightness of the questions from the audience. All were invited to the closing reception at the end of the day.
Closing receptions aren’t typical, but I for one am all for making them a habit. We welcomed Museum staff, congressional staff, GC friends, and such advisory board members as could make it. It was a small group, but it was a chance for final thank-you’s and a last toast. It was also a chance for me to give a few final tours—most of the Congressional staffers had not seen it—and then catch a few minutes alone with my green community. It looked just beautiful in winter twilight, LED’s glowing as the light outside falls. Call me a sap, but I’ll admit to getting a little misty-eyed. GC and I had spent a lot of quality time together over the past year, which was a bit of a surprise.
Way back when, in summer of 08, we were talking about gearing up our web presence and getting curators like me to blog and tweet, it all seemed a little too late. I myself may have said at one of our meetings that once an exhibition opens the curator’s attention turns to other things; her work is done. More interesting, surely, would be blogging during the year + of research and design. All this about blogging and such, I’d remember that for next time. But, one of our summer scholars was persistent and she encouraged me to go ahead and dive in. Thus was born Gang Green. And, little did I know, once Green Community opened I never did move on. I gave innumerable tours, went out on the lecture circuit to universities, civic organizations, and professional associations, worked on web-films (stay tuned, there are more of those in the pipeline!) and then dove right into shaping the book. In fact, adding in the year or so of research, another year working with the design team, and then the year of the exhibition itself, GC and I have had a three year relationship…in duration second only to my marriage.
My plan had always been to sunset Gang Green, and if I were adhering to my plan this would have been my valedictory blog. But, from that subjunctive-laden sentence, you can tell that is not the case. Just as there is no completion date on any of the communities in either exhibition or book; there is no single moment when the green teams pats one another on the back and say “well done, mate…our work here is done.” The work is never done. Neither, despite our closing toasts and back-pats, is ours. Somehow to talk and walk green for a year and then shut up and vanish doesn’t seem consistent with the whole project. In fact, now that there’s no current exhibition up with “green” in its title, it’s more important than ever to ratchet up the other media to keep engaged.
I often tell anyone who will listen, and many who won’t, that behind every story in the news—whether sports, national security, social, cultural, economic, or health related—lurks environmental design. It’s all about design. So, with the exhibition gone, I’ll be re-positioning Gang Green to look outward. And, I intend to put the “gang” back into Gang Green. I’m going to invite some of you—don’t avert your eyes to avoid being called on, I know that trick—to join the Gang and share your research, questions, concerns, and maybe even some answers. We begin again in 2010.