So what DO you do? In St Andrews, Stirling, everywhere…

Hey T,

Observations and conversations – how important they are! I feel like you are doing them in a somewhat more extreme fashion than me, in terms of altitude at least.

I’m at the moment sitting in a cosy cafe in Stirling, with a folk band doing covers of old 60s songs and a tv with Sky News silently crying rivers of human destruction, plane bombs, and refugee despair for company. Today I visited the student union at Stirling University, and their Green and Blue Space. It’s a sustainability hub where they have Fair Share – a shop selling donated items back to the student community for very cheap, and the Food Hive – a wholesale food cooperative, now also with veg bags from Bellfield. I also had a quick glance at their permaculture garden that I know you have visited. They are, as most sustainability projects in Scotland, reliant on external funding, and thus, as everyone else, also concerned about their future as funding is never of a reliable long term nature. Interestingly, they are trying to get around this by converting each project into some form of cooperative of sorts, where the need for monetary input is kept to a minimum. In the cases that money is needed, the minimal income stream from the membership fees has to be enough. Seed saving becomes crucial.

My visit is part of a project I’m currently involved in, which aims to produce a short guide on how to start and run a Transition University and a larger online knowledge base on the same topic. It’s provoking all kinds of interesting questions, such as what is actually a Transition university, and what kind of a community does a university have? I was just in our old haunts in St Andrews, the life in which is frighteningly easy to fall back into, and did some case studies of the Transition university group there. Mobilization around money and income streams is happening there too – I went to this excellent talk on TTIP, after which a motion was put to the Fife Council to declare Fife a TTIP free zone, something that it did almost unanimously! (and you will be happy to hear, with the help of campaigners from, wait for it, students active in One World Society, University of St Andrews).

I also find myself living radically outside the most common approach to money and income. In my travels I meet many new people (although I don’t get paid for going on walks with them as you seem to do!). Conversation with someone you don’t know yet tends to follow a rather established pattern along the lines of “Hello, my name is xxx”, “Nice to meet you”, “so what do you do?”. At this point I always mess up the conversation, for better or for worse. All because I don’t take part in that conventional money stream.

At first I would answer the “what do you do?” question by going into my reasoning for what I do- As I don’t only do one single thing, in one place, it felt natural for me to talk about the thread that links my activities together, what I perceive to be the underlying motivation for it all.

But that involves talking about values. Ethics, earth care, people care (for myself and others, if one can claim that there is a distinction), fair share. The inherent violence of our economic system. Spending my time and energy on projects and ideas I believe are good for humanity and the earth, without implicitly taking part in something that upholds the structures that I consider destructive for our interdependent life on earth.

At this point, people’s eyes have often glazed over, they’re distracted and looking wistfully at other people having normal conversations. Conversations that don’t involve an uncomfortably enthusiastic, rambling, and all too often muddy-trousered human being in a brightly coloured woolly jumper launching into too deep discussions about what we’re doing on this planet, before we can even remember the names of each other.

Quite often the conversation ends in an awkward silence there. I think quietly to myself, this is not the right way of making people understand where I’m coming from. If I’m lucky, my conversational counterpart will persist and ask “ok, but, what DO you do?”.

I realise that what we’re looking for is answers that fit into categories. People want answers like “I’m a social worker.”, “I’m a teacher.” – the activities we do in exchange for money. So I started answering: I’m an activist, a writer, a researcher, a gardener, a traveller, a dreamer, (and quite probably a bit of a nutcase). Placing myself in categories I’d never consciously considered for myself. This seems to go down a bit better, until they realise that I do this without getting paid. Living without money, why would you choose that? So I embark on the long stream of loosely formulated thoughts about values and ethics again, and most often end up loosing them somewhere along the way…

Some observations on my conversations – keep telling me yours!

Love from your friend the activist who doesn’t protest, but who travels for sustainability, volunteers for prosperity, writes for no readership, and gardens for political change (yeah categories make things so much simpler…)


One thought on “So what DO you do? In St Andrews, Stirling, everywhere…

  1. Dear Maria,
    How lovely to read some of your adventures and thought processes. I totally relate to your conversational ‘issues’ with ppl who like clear cut answers. I started to response something like ‘i do what i believe in’. This often results in a puzzling face non the less, but also a smile and maybe an open attitude, i don’t know.
    Hope we meet again some day. I’m at Ridgedale permaculture in Sweden atm and just send Jamie S. off back to Scotland this morning.
    Stay true,


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